Breathing Life Into Words

5.28.15 emailsGood actors bring a script to life.  The best ones know just how to nuance the emotion perfectly, so it feels real, like it’s from the heart; you believe that the actor IS the character, not that he is just playing a part; the emotions come from his gut,much more than simply words rising from a page.

How do good actors breathe life into mere words?  How can you do the same for your emails?

Emails need a life of their own, yet they exist without the benefit of sound, tone, or pausing, useful tools at an actor disposal.  All an email has is the words on the page.  What’s an uninformed writer supposed to do?  Lucky for you, there’s help – right here!

When an actor enters the stage, he has presence – you know he’s there; he owns the space.  All eyes are on him; he heavily influences the action.  In emails, your influencing entrance is the headline.  It grabs attention (or it should), it draws the reader in (an acquired skill), and the headline gets the right reader in (everything written is not for everyone).  Whew, that’s a lot of work, but the headline is just that important.  If you get nothing else right, get the headline right.

A headline is 80% of the battle.  Yup, 80% of the work is done by the workhorse headline, with an optional subheader taking some of the load.  And to make things worse, you’re on a short time crunch.  That poor headline only has fractions of seconds to send out the bait and reel ‘em in, or they’ve moved on. So don’t skip on understanding how to write good headlines.  It’s that big of a deal.

Once the reader is into the body of content, now the job becomes to keep him engaged.  That is best done by delivering a compelling story.  Engaging emotions gets them hooked and hanging on every word inside the content.  Hard to do you say?  Perhaps initially, but definitely trainable with some learned techniques.

My favorite example of concise, moving story writing is the Hemingway vignette: Hemingway was bet that he couldn’t tell a complete story in 6 words.  He collected on that bet with:  For sale – baby shoes, never worn. 

The syntax also helps (or hurts) with the breathing of life into writing.  Using big (over 3 syllables) words is not only pretentious, it smacks of elitism, which is never an endearing quality.  Keeping the words, sentences and paragraphs short, snappy, and clear helps maintain attention.  And keeping it conversational, like conversing with a good friend.  Nicely informal; keep it authentic.  Ditch the stilted writing; no one talks like that, never did.  Boring is not attention getting.

Now that the words are alive, grabbing attention, digging in with emotion – what do you want the reader to do?  What action do you want to happen?  And every written piece has a desired resulting action as a goal. Too often the desired action is not asked for, leaving the reader to guess!  Not a good idea as no one has time to mind read.  When you don’t ask for what you want, all that good writing can end up confusing instead of progressing towards the goal of the piece.  And we all know that a confused mind rarely acts.  Or the action is to retreat…and no one wants to see the brilliant actor fall from grace with forgotten bumbled lines.

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