I don’t think there’s a more scorned form of literature than the romance novel. “Bodice rippers,” “trashy books” or “that Harlequin crap” are some of the more charitable terms I’ve heard. It was probably pure perversity that led me to try to write one. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be, and I didn’t expect to learn as much as I did.
The four romance novels I published taught me more about writing than anything else I’ve ever done. And when I began to write marketing materials, and later blogs, I realized that the key to writing romances is also the key to any kind of persuasive writing.
No, contrary to popular opinion, it’s not the sex that gets the reader to turn those pages.
It’s the pain.
People who don’t read romances think they’re about some dumb Fabio type who rides a white horse and rescues a woman even dumber than he is.
Try to write a plot like this and you’ll quickly gather a pile of rejection slips. Simplistic boy-rescues-girl stories don’t sell. Good romances show a couple who fight their way through a mountain of painful, difficult conflict before they get the reward of being together. Sure, the couple might be impossibly good-looking, and there might be some castles or cowboys involved. But beyond the trappings, a page-turning romance has at its core a whole lot of pain.
Make ’em suffer
If you want to write effective copy, you must learn to engage readers emotionally. And if you want to study emotional writing, try reading a few highly successful romance novels. Get over being embarrassed–if you can buy Cosmo or The Enquirer to study headlines, you can buy Laura Kinsale to learn what writing skillfully about pain looks like.
Clear, vivid expression of pain is a great way to build empathy with your reader. We’ve all been miserable. We’ve all been heartbroken. (And we’re all, secretly, a little melodramatic about our own woes.) If you can describe a painful, difficult problem in strong language, you’ll start to create an emotional bond.
Make ’em really suffer
Good copywriting describes a solution to a problem. Great copywriting makes you feel both the problem and the solution. If the problem isn’t vivid, even a great solution will feel tepid.
The beautiful, tender-hearted governor’s daughter is a lot more appealing if the pirate hero was abandoned at the age of three to be raised by wharf rats. If the problem is bad enough, any solution feels miraculous.
Don’t wimp out. Inexperienced fiction writers often confuse a mushy conflict with being “nuanced” or subtle. Faulkner understood massive conflict, and so did Hemingway and Shakespeare. Audacity is another great trait you can learn from reading romances. Be bold.
If your product just solves an irritant, that’s ok. Anyone who’s survived deerfly season knows the power of irritation. But make it major, painful, unbearable irritation.
Dig deep into the problem you solve. See if you can find a threat to your readers’ core–to their sense of self, to the people they love, to their most important connections.
No marketing technique can help you if your problem is fundamentally no big deal. Find a problem that is a big deal, then solve it.
Show the redemption
Once you’ve made your readers good and miserable, you’re ready to cut them a break with your solution. Be sure you paint it as vividly as you did the pain. You’re creating a strong contrast: loneliness to connection, disease to robust health, despair to joy.
Your readers might not jump into your arms right away. But when you hook them with a vivid description of their problem, you’ve taken the most important first step: creating an emotional bond. Find their pain, explore its deepest roots, paint it vividly, then offer a real solution.
I’ll be the first to cheer as you and your customers ride off into the sunset, happily ever after.
About the Author: Sonia Simone is co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on twitter @soniasimone