Every story has an emotional response to elicit. When campers are
sitting around a fire in the dark woods, they tell stories that
generate fear and excitement; stories about psychotic killers
with hooks for hands, and teenagers who pick up strange
When women have lunch with their girlfriends, they tell amusing
stories about their husbands and boyfriends to relate to each
other. And when you tell a story on your website, in an article,
or even in an ad, you are letting people know that, “this
product, service, or business opportunity worked for other real
live people, so it could work for you, too!”
People don’t remember statistics, but they have a special storage
compartment in their brains for stories. Stories are an innate
part of human beings. As long as there have been people, there
have been stories. They are a part of every culture that is or
ever was, ranging from writing on walls, to oral traditions, to
dramatic plays, to the modern novel. Stories capture our hearts
and imaginations, so we tend to pay more attention to them than
we would, say, hard-sell ads.
Consider how often you leave the room during commercials, as
opposed to how often you leave during Friends or E.R. Maybe the
difference is no more than the mode of presentation. If
commercials were 30 minutes long and told a story, maybe we
wouldn’t lunge for the remote or leave the room when they came
I’m kidding about the 30 minute commercial, but I’m not kidding
about using stories to sell. Let’s talk about how you can use
stories in your own copy to keep people’s attention, build trust
and credibility, and, most importantly, sell.
After reading a fair number of popular novels, you may begin to
notice a pattern in how the protagonists of the story develop.
Although you aren’t writing a novel for your website, ad, or
article, you can use this same process of development in your
stories to help you sell.
Let’s take a closer look at character development in popular
writing and see what we can incorporate into our own stories, to
increase sales and build credibility:
1. Remember the past–Whether you are relating your own story, or
the story of someone who enjoyed success after doing business
with you, give that person a past. In a novel, main characters
don’t appear out of nowhere. They have a past that begins before
the circumstances of the novel. Similarly, when you tell a story
in your copy, you need to let your readers know about your
For an example, see Jim Daniels’ story (http://bizweb2000.com) of
how he built his Internet business. The story doesn’t start with
him at the moment his business took off. It starts with him
working a miserable 9 to 5 job he hated. Then it moves to him
working to build his Internet business.
Giving the protagonist of your story a past helps the reader to
relate to that person, making them more three-dimensional and
easier to believe in.
2. Generate empathy–You want your reader to feel what the
protagonist is feeling. The information you convey must touch
something in the reader, making him/her think, “I know just how
The more your reader can relate to the protagonist of the story,
the more they will see their own lives paralleling that person’s.
For example, say you tell a story about the trials a woman with
weight problems went through, how she felt about being
overweight, and then tell how she was able to change her life
with your weight loss supplements. If the story is told in a way
that makes the reader recognize feelings similar to those of the
overweight woman, they will be likely to buy the product.
3. Generate sympathy–This is a different task than generating
empathy. When you feel things empathetically, you are feeling
what someone else is feeling. When you feel sympathy, you feel
concern or sorrow for someone else.
The purpose of generating sympathy is to get the reader more
involved in the story. We all love conflict and turmoil, so the
more there is, the more interested we are. If you tell a story
about a woman whose husband died, leaving her with debt and four
kids to take care of, we feel a great deal of sympathy for her.
And just as we all rubber-neck at the scene of a horrible
accident, we can’t stop reading about someone one else’s problems
4. Show how the protagonist changed–If you read an entire novel
in which the main character never learned anything or changed in
any way, you would shut the book thinking, “What was the point?”
If the person you tell a story about doesn’t change for the
better, the story won’t do you any good. When you are using a
story to sell or build credibility, it must always have a happy
ending. And that happy ending must come about because of your
product, service, or business opportunity.
Don’t be afraid to tell your story every chance you get. If you
don’t tell your story, other people will. And they often won’t
get the details right.
I remember a woman who owned a big string of electronics stores
in the Southwest. Everyone in town knew the story about her
first arriving in the area, with only $300 in her pocket to start
her first store.
One day I had a chance to ask the entrepreneur about this story.
“Gosh no,” she laughed. “I don’t know where that story comes
from. I started my business with a mountain of market research
and plenty of investment money.”
The moral of this story is, follow the character development
patterns used by popular novelists. Using these techniques,
writers keep people involved in a story for hundreds of pages.
You will certainly be able to draw readers in and keep their
attention for a few paragraphs.