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August 18th, 2008

How *not* to tell a crummy story

It was a dark and stormy afternoon when the newsletter arrived in my inbox. It was the most recent issue from Dan, a new client, and he wanted the scoop on why his newsletter wasn’t working.

You’ve seen newsletters like his–attractive design, polished articles, but something just seems missing.

He had all the basics covered in his newsletter–it balanced promotion with information, he had specific goals, and he published on a consistent basis. He was even starting to integrate some advanced newsletter techniques like storytelling.

And it was precisely the storytelling that was tripping him up.

See, he’d tell stories about his clients and the problems they faced. He painted great pictures of where the client was before working with him.

But that’s where the story ended.

He was consistently ending the story in the middle.

This is a common problem for newsletter publishers–we just plain don’t know how to tell a complete story. And it’s a pity because the ability to tell a really great story is indeed a great power. Fortunately, it’s a power that’s relatively easy to learn–use these tips to start telling more effective stories in your own newsletter.

When telling a story, make sure to share the ending

The first rule of storytelling is to start at the beginning and tell it straight through to the ending. If you choose to share success stories with your readers of the great work you’ve done for readers, stopping in the middle only leaves readers wondering if you were actually able to solve your client’s problem–not exactly the question you want to leave readers with.

When telling a story, think of the fairy tales

There are certain patterns that occur in most of our popular fairy tales. For instance, the number three is used a lot (e.g., three bears in Goldilocks). There’s usually a magical element. Settings are larger than life–castles, haunted forests. All of these elements converge to help you weave a story that’ll live on in the mind of your readers.

When telling a story, leave out the extraneous

It’s easy to get caught up in all the details of a story–how this new client didn’t decide to hire me for six months, for instance–when what your readers want is the meat of the story. Certainly, details make the story more vivid, so don’t leave them all out. But, do make sure the point of your story doesn’t get lost in the parentheses.

When telling a story, tie it back to your point

Unless the article is just one long story (like a case study, for instance), make sure you don’t get so enthralled in the tale that you forget to bring it back to the reason you started telling it in the first place. An easy way to make this transition is to summarize the story’s point in one sentence and move on to the rest of your article in the next.

When telling a story, remember the people

We’re all curious about other people. So, when you’re telling a story in your newsletter, make sure you flesh out the main character of your story. And make sure to remember the other important people while you tell your story, too–your readers–and make sure the main character is one they can relate to.

By learning to tell a complete story, you’ll be able to the power of a great story to work in your own newsletter. There’s nothing that keeps your readers savoring each issue of your newsletter quite like top notch storytelling skills.

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