Using stories in content marketing isn’t new. But it is more important now because of the increased usage of AI.
Because stories are human, and AI can’t write with emotion and empathy.
As a digital copywriter, learning to weave authentic stories into your writing will set you apart and help you deliver better results to your clients. It’s one of the things your clients rely on you for, and you need to be able to do that for yourself, too.
By reading books about writing by best-selling fiction authors, you can learn story-writing techniques that will improve your skills in a way many writers overlook.
Zen in the Art of Writing
During his lifetime, Ray Bradbury wrote over 20 books, 600 short stories, and 24 plays, including several screenplays. He’s best known for his award-winning fiction, including titles like Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes.
In Zen in the Art of Writing, Bradbury takes the reader on a journey into his writing process.
Zen in the Art of Writing is an inspiring and instructional collection of articles, where Bradbury shares his experiences as a writer, offers practical tips on writing to improve your storytelling abilities, and encourages readers to embrace their creativity.
In the book, Bradbury shares his unbound enthusiasm and passion for the craft, letting you know writing should be enjoyable… not drudgery.
Let’s look at some of the helpful quotes and advice you’ll find in his book…
“In quickness is truth; the faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth, which is the only style worth dead-falling or tiger trapping.”
I like how Bradbury expands on “write first and edit later” in this quote.
He says stiving for a specific style prevents you from writing naturally. Instead, he recommends you “leap upon truth,” allowing the narrative to flow freely as it comes to you.
But, what does he mean by “dead-falling” and “tiger trapping”?
Dead-falling is a term Bradbury uses to describe the natural, uncontrived descent into the narrative — a spontaneous, unforced approach to storytelling. Bradbury is encouraging you to let your story unfold organically and capture the essence of it as it comes to you.
Tiger trapping is a metaphor for the deliberate, strategic capture of an idea or story element — a conscious effort to seize and incorporate specific elements to enhance the narrative.
While dead-falling is about spontaneity, tiger trapping is purposeful and strategic planning. You can intentionally include details and elements in your work. You can plan the themes your story will revolve around.
The beauty of this quote lies in Bradbury’s recognition that you need balance in the writing process. He advocates for spontaneous, natural writing that includes purposeful and strategic choices. Together, they create an interplay for engaging and authentic stories.
Let’s move on to the next quote…
“After all, isn’t that what life is all about? The ability to go around back and come up inside other people’s heads to look out and say, ‘Oh, so that’s how you see it.’”
This quote is all about empathy and the art of understanding others. When incorporating stories into your content, first you want to see the world from your prospect’s perspective, so you can connect better with them.
Determine what your prospect (the hero of your story) wants, what their dream is, what shapes it, and how it’s expressed. And then tell the story of their journey.
You can hone your empathy and understanding of others by experimenting with different points of view. When you read a story or watch a movie, think about the different characters, their motivations, and how they see things differently.
Be a people watcher, observing behaviors and listening to conversations for speech styles and language usage. Interview people similar to your client’s prospects to get a feel for how they think, how they talk about your product and the problem it solves, and what it would mean for them to solve that problem.
Another gem from Bradbury…
“In your reading, find books to improve your color sense, your sense of shape and size in the world… Your characters must sometimes use their noses and ears, or they may miss half the smells and sounds of the city, and all of the sounds of the wilderness still loose in the trees and on the lawns of the city.”
In addition to observing people, Bradbury encourages you to read every day and to read broadly… not just fiction. He suggests reading to improve your senses and how you talk about what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Develop your vocabulary around color, smell, shape, and sound.
Consider reading essays, articles, nonfiction, fiction… even instructional guides. Anything that appeals to your senses.
Reading poetry every day can also help to expand your senses. Poetry is full of similes and metaphors, which can give you ideas for new ways to convey sensory details.
Bradbury suggests finding poems that appeal to your emotions and let your subconscious flow. Or, “poetry that makes your hair stand up along your arms.”
These exercises can strengthen your ability to help your readers see themselves in the stories you weave into your content.
“…if you are a writer, or would hope to be one, similar lists, dredged out of the lop side of your brain, might well help you discover you, even as I flopped around and finally found me.”
One of Bradbury’s favorite techniques was list-making.
He began by listing two-word titles consisting of an article followed by a noun.
As the list got longer, it started to show a pattern. Bradbury stated that the lists were the provocations that caused his better ideas to surface.
After making free-flowing lists for a while, he organized them around a theme. Then he wrote short titles that added an adjective to the noun. The short titles he wrote on his lists inspired many of his short stories and several novels.
List-making is an excellent brain-storming technique. I’ve tried it several times and was surprised at how quickly the stream of consciousness took over.
Want to try?
Get a fresh notebook and write “The” followed by the first word that comes to you. Keep writing. You’ll be surprised at how quickly the ideas flow and the page fills.
As tempting as it may be, don’t type these lists. Handwriting them allows for a more natural flow.
“Work, Relaxation, Don’t Think”
These are Bradbury’s Zen stages. He breaks down each stage in his book and relates it to the writing process.
Bradbury suggests partnering with your work rather than thinking about the end result — money or fame.
He believes a writer should first make contact with the thing in themselves that makes them truly original. And not be distracted by achieving notoriety and a “fat bank balance.”
When you stop thinking about it and start doing it, your writing takes on a rhythm.
This happens next. You are writing and letting the words flow freely. No longer distracted by “work.” You achieve a natural rhythm, and your writing requires less thinking.
Bradbury says this results in “more relaxation and more unthinkingness.”
He compares this stage to an athlete playing on the field without thinking about how to play. Or a painter, just letting the brush flow on the canvas.
The more relaxed and open you are, the faster and the better you will write.
This last quote from Bradbury is one of my favorites…
“His greatest art will often be what he does not say, what he leaves out, his ability to state simply with clear emotion, the way he wants to go.”
It’s a reminder of how important it is to be concise in your writing. Look for details that move the reader from one point to the next and remove those that don’t.
Start applying this wisdom from Bradbury to your work… read more, write more, enjoy the process, and don’t try so hard. When you do that, you’ll soon discover the ideas you have within you just waiting to come pouring out.