5 Secrets an 8-year old Natalie Wood Can Teach You About Persuasive Writing

image of miracle on 34th street poster

Like a lot of people, every year my husband and I watch Miracle on 34th Street during the holiday season.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is right at the end when Natalie Wood is riding in the car with her mom and Fred Gailey.

The camera focuses in on Natalie sitting in the back seat of the car staring out the window looking bored and kind of annoyed, mumbling “I believe, I believe …”

Then, there’s a moment where the camera closes in a bit on her eyes as they widen in shock.

She shrieks, “Stop, Uncle Fred! Stop! Stop! Stop!”

The camera angle switches and you see Natalie running up the hill to the house that she had asked Santa Claus to give her.

Persuasive writing is like that.

When it works, the writing takes someone from a neutral state of bored indifference to excitement.

I think of that split-second transition as the “magic moment.”

Considering Natalie Wood was only 8 years old when the movie was made, she does an amazing job of conveying just what happens during that magic moment when suddenly something that seemed impossible becomes real.

To reach that magic moment in your copywriting, here are a 5 secrets you can learn from an 8-year old Natalie.

1. You need a big story

People don’t respond to boring. In fact, one of the worst insults an 8-year old can throw at you is “that’s boring.”

A story like, “What if Santa were real?” gets the attention of pretty much everyone, even those with short attention spans.

It gets people talking.

In Miracle on 34th Street, even the grandkids of the district attorney knew about the legal case. (And thought grandpa had a whole lot of nerve picking on Santa.)

Is your message something worth sharing? Could it be?

2. You need a big vision

Unlike most kids, instead of asking for a toy, Natalie Wood asks Santa for a house. She hands Kris Kringle a magazine photograph of a house and explains that she doesn’t want a dollhouse. She wants a REAL house.

She says, “If you’re really Santa Claus, you can get it for me. And if you can’t, you’re only a nice man with a white beard, like mother said.”

Natalie had a big vision for what life would be like living in a house in the suburbs versus living in an apartment in the city.

She doesn’t like her Manhattan apartment, and explains that her house would have a back yard with a big tree to put a swing on. She had a clear picture of exactly what she wanted.

With your writing, can you paint a transformative picture that inspires people to fill in the rest using their own imagination?

3. You need a big emotion

People do almost everything for emotional, not rational reasons.

It’s been said that Santa Claus doesn’t need a marketing department. What’s not to love about free gifts for boys and girls around the world? And the “spirit of Christmas” embodies noble emotions like generosity, love, and compassion.

As Kris Kringle says, “Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind.”

In your writing, you need to tap into emotions, whether they are noble like generosity or more negative like fear, greed, and vanity.

After all, there’s no logical reason to believe in Santa Claus or ever eat M&Ms, cookies or doughnuts. Yet people do. Krispy Kreme and Mrs. Fields are ample proof of that.

Why do people continue to buy fat-laden doughnuts and cookies? Because they taste yummy and eating them makes you feel good.

What are your reader’s biggest pain points? What make him feel good?

4. You need big proof

Natalie Wood wants to believe that Kris Kringle is really Santa and looks for proof. At Macy’s she sees him speak Dutch to a little girl and is thrilled to discover he’s not wearing fake padding on his jolly tummy. Then when she tugs on his beard, it doesn’t come off!

She’s excited to tell her mom what she’s learned, but mom raises objections. “Many men have long beards like that” and “I speak French, but I’m not Joan of Arc.”

Many types of proof exist. For example, you might include testimonials in your copy, but that might not be enough. You may need something bigger.

In the movie, the ultimate proof is the existence of the house. (And the real magic is finding the cane tucked into a corner.)

Are you giving people enough reasons to have faith in what you offer? (“Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.”)

5. You need to believe

People want to believe a lot of things they think they can’t do. They might secretly want to travel around the world or write a book.

Generally, there’s no real reason why these people couldn’t travel or write; they just think they can’t.

Good copywriting taps into the emotions and dreams people want to believe anyway. Natalie Wood wanted to believe that Santa would bring her a house, but “common sense” kept telling her it would never happen.

Until it did.

She says, “You were right, Mommy! Mommy said if things don’t turn out right at first…you’ve still got to believe. I kept believing. You were right, Mommy!”

Does your writing give people the joy of realizing a dream they want to believe is possible? Could it?

Of course, in the movie, the logistics of actually buying the house, mom and Fred getting married, moving, and so forth work themselves out. By then, it’s just details.

That’s true of great copy too.

Once the magic moment happens, there’s no turning back.

About the Author: Susan Daffron, aka The Book Consultant owns a book and software publishing company. In addition to teaching aspiring authors about book publishing and putting on the Self-Publishers Online Conference every May, she also just relaunched and is the editor of ComputorCompanion.com, which offers ideas and advice to grow your business.

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Reader Comments (39)

  1. says

    Lovely post Susan. I hate to admit it but I have never seen that version of Miracle in 34th Street :( I’m going to Amazon to order a copy to watch on Christmas day.

    As to my copy, not only will I keep believing I’ll keep practising. Just in case 😉

  2. says

    Great post, Susan. Your points relate well to goal setting. When you set goals, you need to dream big, have faith, and keep believing when things get tough. Really big goals will have those Magic Moments when you realize with hard work, organization and a little bit of luck, dreams can come true.

  3. says

    Great comparison :) Good copywriting, just like good storytelling (especially prevalent around the holiday season) should be exciting, miraculous, engaging and magical. Of course, you have to have something worth that excitement to back it up, but what a great reminder to bring that feeling back to the sales process.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • says

      Absolutely. I think Seth Godin said, you shouldn’t “wait to be picked.” You need to pick yourself. That’s another way of saying you need to believe 😉

  4. says

    Persuading people to believe in you, and your work, seeing them nodding their heads in agreement. That’s a great goal to achieve…nice post.

  5. says

    I think a good conclusion/ending is a leading factor in persuasive writing because when someone is done reading you want them to remember your words. But like what was said in number 5 you do need to believe nice post by the way.

    • says

      I see this with aspiring book authors a lot. The first person you need to convince that you CAN write a book is you. Getting past that doubt and believing is a big deal.

  6. says

    An 8 year old Natalie Wood might also teach you that with a solid production team that believes in you – your career can be launched. Not a lesson learned from the movie itself, but a great message for aspiring writers looking to grow their careers. Seek out the compelling jobs and surround yourself with professionals in your industry who recognize your talent and are willing to let you shine.

    • says

      Very true. That’s why I tell the book authors I work with to NOT skimp on editing or design. It matters. You want to surround yourself with people who can help make your book the best it can be.

  7. says

    These are really great points you brought up. True stories of triumph and extraordinary comebacks seems to hooks readers in.

  8. says

    Great article!

    My favorite phrase… “that magic moment in your copywriting”

    Jim Collins is praising your point #1.

    Clayton Makepeace is cheering your point #3.

    Gary Bencivenga is giving an “Woot” to point #4

    And ole Henry Ford is applauding point #5.

    You’ve written a post that has pleased the Masters :) Well done.

  9. says

    I have always loved that movie. It is inspiring, I especially liked the proof they offered in the court house with all the mail to Santa. After reading your article, that mail showed me that there are many kinds of proof that people will accept, especially when they already want to believe.

  10. says

    Thanks Susan for an inspiring post – a great jump off point for my writing today. To “give people the joy of realizing a dream they want to believe is possible” was the stand out phrase for me. I think that this is something to remember whenever we write a blog post, a piece of fiction, a travel article or even observational humour. You are spot on. The dream and the emotion are so important.

    • says

      I think about that a lot because I work with authors. For many of them, writing a book has been a dream for a very long time. I think of myself as a dream-enabler 😉

  11. says

    Food for thought! I’ve been using some of these steps but without really thinking about it.Our stories need to be more emotive than informative, to captivate the reader huh.

  12. says

    Great post Susan. At the heart of your message, I hear you saying that YOUR READER is the person who’s most important. If you know your reader well, you can tap into their mind and their emotions. You can tell stories you KNOW will compel them to stay tuned.

    Being new to the blogosphere, I found it hard at first to really “know” my ideal reader. But in writing my recent post, I felt more in tune with my reader than I did in my previous two posts. So I guess another key element here is to keep writing, because you’ll get better as time goes on. :)

    Thanks for the wonderful post Susan. I really enjoyed it.

    • says

      That’s a good point, Tony. I think developing that connection with your reader takes time. With a blog, once you have comments and/or emails from your readers, you start to develop a mental picture of who he/she is and what he/she needs to know. The more clear that picture, the better your writing becomes for that particular target market.

      In fact, if you’ve spent much time reading Copyblogger, you’ve probably noticed that virtually all of the articles have a particular editorial style. (This one is no exception.) That style is designed to appeal to their target reader, and you gotta know it’s not an accident; it’s on purpose 😉

  13. says

    Thanks for sharing, you made some very poignant and salient points. Story telling has long been an absent quality of most copy I see these days (the argument that nobody reads things anymore). Short copy or long copy, you always have to tell the story. The key is engaging the reader, and, once you’ve engaged them, motivating them to some specific end (call, buy, read more). Even a nation of scanners will see enough of your story (the beginning, the middle and the end) to accomplish the end result if it’s properly laid out and pushes the right buttons. Remember, no cares who you are anymore or what you do, only what you can do for them TODAY.

    • says

      Yes, and it’s amazing how well a good story holds up over time. I watch the movie almost every year and I still love it. In much the same way, a copy “control” piece can work for for a business for years. (I’ve read about several that lasted 20+ years, which is remarkable.)

  14. says

    What a post! Thank you so much Susan. I prefer reading to writing really but you just inspied me to give it a shot. You’ve just given advice that you clearly are taking. Your articles very inspiring.

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