All copywriting is storytelling.
Welcome to the first blog of our series where we catch up with some of our favourite humans working across healthcare, research, writing and everything else we (and hopefully you!) find interesting.
First up is Mr Samuel Crosby - a creative, a copywriter, a poet and the first person we call whenever we need some inspiration or an adventure.
Who are you/what do you do?
Hello hello, my name is Samuel. I tell stories.
Poetry for Bloomsbury Festival and The Drum Design Awards winner 'Armistice 100 Days'.
Copy for global 'why-so-serious' companies like Skype and Barclaycard.
Brand building for wild ones like Boardmasters and Watchful Mary.
And podcasts and videos, including the 'What if' series from BBC Radio 2's 'Pause For Thought' contributor Simon Cohen.
In your eyes, what makes a good copywriter?
A 'copywriter' writes to sell. And nothing sells better than a good story. So, what makes a good storyteller? 1. Less copy, more story. In three acts: First, characters are faced with a challenge. Second, they go on a journey. Third, the characters or the world they're in is changed. Whether we're trying to start a social movement or explain the intricacies of a chemical reaction – there will be an interesting narrative to dig up. Interesting challenges. Evils to overcome. Will they, won't they? (There's nothing better than an underdog!) 2. The audience in mind. How is the audience invested? Do they see themselves reflected in it? Can they relate? What action or emotion should it inspire in them? Without thinking about our audience and their motivations, we could be making something beautiful, but we'll be lucky to inspire the action our clients are after. 3. Making it move. Poetry is language at its most efficient. Crucial words are the only ones to escape the red pen (90% of [those pesky] adjectives are removed) and the reader is soothed by rhythm. My favourite tips:
Using words sparingly (another great reason that freelance copywriters should charge day rates, not word counts).
Replacing adjectives with verbs. Why would we say the water was deep and fast if we could say the water ran high?
Verbs that really move. 'Fight for' instead of 'get', 'cherished' instead of 'had'.
Rhythm. Is it interesting? What about this? Three-word sentences. One after another. Monotony in words. Dull, dry, boring. The beauty comes with longer sentences alongside shorter ones. Rhythms that flow and swell. Build to a crescendo. Get our readers enticed and prepped and wound up tight for the next sentence where we deliver the killer blow or, if it serves your story, let them down gently. Up to us.
Do you have a process you go through when working on a new project? I always wear two hats. I write, then edit with fresh eyes. I read my work first thing with coffee. Read it again at night. Read it out loud to a friend or a pigeon. Then I hack it up. My best work is always a fraction of its original word count. Ideas or phrases that I love are axed if they don't push the story along or help my audience shuffle closer to action. I'm not a big fan of Stephen King, but he has delivered some gems... "Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings." It's never easy, but always worth it.
Is there anything you do to keep improving your writing? I read and write. Obvious advice on the face of it, but it makes me a more open creative for another reason... It helps me to believe that the thoughts we have don't belong to us. Like our genes, we've inherited stories and idiosyncrasies from generations before us. Concepts with clarity and resonance have thrived, where weaker ideas have lost the evolutionary race (check out the etymology of 'meme'). The more we read and write, the more repeated or borrowed language we see. Across genre, industry, geography. We're all working from the same palette. When we come up with an idea that we love – like Stephen King's darlings – we should be mindful that it's an idea or a set of words we've borrowed. It's not our idea versus the other idea. It's just two ideas and one of them will benefit the work more. When you truly believe this, it can act as a superpower for the creative process (and your wellbeing!). Especially when the client disagrees with an idea you love.
For all curious souls Samuel is well worth a follow on instagram @mrcrosbay and get in touch with us if you have any projects in need of creative spark!