Readers today expect more. Weaned on fast-paced TV, special-effect movies, and sensational social media, they’ve come to expect all media to wow them. That means boring books laden with facts and figures just don’t cut it anymore. As an author today, you need to write a book that gets readers to 1) notice and buy it, 2) enjoy and finish it, and 3) let their friends and colleagues know all about it. (Word of mouth is still your best marketing tool.)
Fortunately, that’s not as daunting as it sounds. In fact, it can be fun. Once you finish your first draft (Congrats! The hardest part is over!), go back and add the following techniques to your manuscript.
Pro Writing Tool #1: Create similes. Like mini-stories, similes help readers grasp your message in seconds because they compare the unfamiliar with something familiar. Similes are usually introduced by like or as: Maybe your product works like a locksmith or your program is like a symphony performance. A cattle farmer chose a powerful simile when explaining why grass-fed beef is better than grain-fed: “A grain diet is like eating chocolate cake three times a day.” In an instant, he’d made his case. Who wouldn’t feel their pain and plight? A few more examples:
– Our hotel is steeped in the tradition of fine service and warm hospitality that, like an unseen butler, lingers in the background.
– Lumping all those theories into one approach is like saying pasta is just spaghetti.
– The new financial software is like a personal trainer, keeping your budget in shape.
Pro Writing Tool #2: Make metaphors work for you. Metaphors are similar to similes, except instead of being like something, they are something. My office is like a prison is a simile. My office is a prison is a metaphor—and stronger in tone. Think about what your message is similar to, as in these examples:
– Our self-help programs are guiding lights when the path grows dark.
– The new plan is a virtual cafeteria, offering personal choices, fast service, and something sweet at the end.
– My life had turned into a circus, and my partner was the ringmaster; I was the clown.
Pro Writing Tool #3: Rock with rhythm and rhyme. When we read, we actually hear the words, so rhythm matters. And rhymes add more than just flow and creativity. In the bestseller Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, author Robert B. Cialdini explains that rhyming offers greater “processing fluency.” In laymen’s terms, our brains have an easier time understanding and retaining rhyming phrases. For instance:
– The Influence of Affluence — book title
– The Residence of the Presidents — historic Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.
– The Occidental Grill, where politicians mix entrées with communiqués.
Stuck for a rhyme? Head over to http://www.rhymezone.com.
Pro Writing Tool #4: Incorporate dialogue. Instead of blocks and blocks of content, how about some dialogue? Let’s say you’re writing a book about how to make the workplace more supportive. Your first draft drones on about how to treat difficult situations. That’s fine for starters, but now go back and add dialogue with real or fictional people interacting in real situations. The tone is fresher, and dialogue looks great on the page. When the brain see that extra white space, it says, “Oh good, that looks easy to read.”
Pro Writing Tool #5: Wake up the senses. Fiction writers know how to draw us in by awakening our senses. You can too. When writing about a problem, for example, grab readers’ attention by showing how people typically react to that situation. Are their hands shaking as they try a complicated device? Are they frowning, muttering under their breath, or scratching their heads? Is the room filled with an unmistakable sense of dread? Put yourself in the situation and imagine it fully—the feelings, smells, tastes, sounds, and sights. Not all senses are appropriate every time; pick the ones that will trigger your readers’ emotions and immerse them in your message.
– The quiet penetrating the once-bustling office gave a loud message.
– The staff looked relieved, audible sighs punctuating the president’s announcement.
– The victim held his head and moaned, his short breaths like smoke in the cold night air.
Pro Writing Tool #6: Share stories. From troubadours to griots, we’ve captured our history through stories. (Only recently have we written our thoughts, let alone tweeted them!) Stories set you apart and make your message more memorable. Based on MRI tests while people were reading stories, scientists know that stories activate the brain in ways far more creative than the words being read. Stories conjure memories, trigger emotions, and resonate in personal ways that create connections and buy-in. Keep a journal or index cards handy so you can jot down favorite life and workplace stories. Don’t worry now about how to use them—just take inventory of your best ones. (Often stories that have the least to do with your topic make the biggest impact when they tie into your message.)
Pro Writing Tool #7: Foreshadow. Set up a situation and withhold important information. For instance, “I knew by the following year, five key accounts could be in the hands of my competitor. If I let that happen, I’d be ruined.” Now intersperse throughout your content the steps you took—and your audience can take—to avoid this outcome. You’ll create drama and tension that will keep your readers turning the pages.
Pro Writing Tool #8: Create scenarios. Play with possibilities. What would it be like if this happened or that didn’t happen? Create scenarios that paint colorful images apropos to your message.
–Scary scenes from last century seem ho-hum by today’s standards. Godzilla destroying Manhattan? No biggie. Martians landing? Bring ‘em on! Threats from the Soviet Union? All gone. But one scene still plays with bone-chilling intensity: an employee cleaning out his desk, flanked by security guards ready to rush him onto the street. No handshakes. No farewells. No dignity.
–John Newsom sits in his leather chair 65 stories above Central Park. He’s ripping a thick pack of papers in half, turning them 90 degrees and tearing them in half again before letting them slowly fall into his leather wastebasket. Newsom is used to making paper, not destroying it. But as the CEO of Paper R Us, he’s reeling from the loss of a major government contract to a competitor with a larger, better-trained staff.
Pro Writing Tool #9: Add a touch of alliteration, that lyrical repetition of initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables, as in Rock with rhythm and rhyme (Pro Writing Tool #3). Newspaper and magazine headline writers have long relied on alliteration to draw readers in. Alliteration also increases memorability. A few examples:
– Pink Slips that Stop Pain
– Coping With Cranky Customers
– Big Business Breakthroughs
A word of caution: Alliteration is like a hot chili—a little goes a long way. It can also add a more jocular tone that may not be appropriate in some situations.
Pro Writing Tool #10: Vivify your verbs. Replace boring verbs (e.g., is, was, get, have) with color and action. Use verbs such as abandon and brandish, wither and wilt. Why settle for the mundane? Not every “to be” verb is boring; sometimes they’re the most efficient way to make your point. But too many is, are, or were and readers will soon be z-z-z-z-z.
Vivid verbs wake up your prose—and your readers:
(To be) She is bringing everyone together.
(Vivid) She galvanizes the staff.
(To be) The copy is full of errors.
(Vivid) Errors choke the content—and its message.
Sell your readers on the idea that your writing is worth their precious time by adding creative touches to engage them—and keep them reading. They’ll thank you by not only finishing your book, but also by telling others all about it.
Lynda McDaniel has enjoyed a long career as an award-winning nonfiction magazine writer and book author, including her three-book Write Faster Series. More recently, she is a novelist of the popular Appalachian Mountain Mysteries series. For the past decade, she has been sharing the fruits of her writing life to help clients craft and publish the books they’ve always dreamed of writing. She lives in Eureka, California with her family. https://www.LyndaMcDanielBooks.com and https://twitter.com/WordWardrobe.
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