Telling Riveting Stories

Prefer to read rather than watch a video? Then read on below…

Ready for a deep dive to take your storytelling skills to bad-ass new levels?

This quick lesson will end with a simple exercise to hone you selling chops to dangerous, street-wise perfection…

And before anyone starts huffing about how “crass” it sounds to use stories to sell stuff, let’s get a few things straight…

Most stories in our modern culture are about selling. 

– Movies sell stars, and sell themselves. 

– Television stories are just attention place-holders for commercials. (You think actors get the big bucks because they’re “good”? No way. It’s because they connect with a paying audience.)

Bob Hope was one of the richest actors to hit the stage, and he never even tried to “really” act — he just goofed his way through a stunningly-lucrative career.

But people identified with him, and he cashed in on that identity.

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Even your weird Uncle Whazoo has an agenda with most of his stories…

He wants attention, he wants to shock and entertain, or maybe he just feels family gatherings would kill the young-un’s with boredom if he didn’t retell the adventure behind his filthy hula dancer tattoo.

So, just to refresh:

If you offer something that your prospect needs or wants… then shame on you if you don’t use every tactic available to get your sales message across so the poor guy can justify buying it.

And stories are just a killer way to set that situation up.



So… back to the lesson.

Most people are not natural storytellers… 

They ramble, repeat themselves, butcher plots, and bombard the listener with irrelevant bullshit.

Did I tell you about the UFO that attacked us? No? It was Tuesday last week… no, wait, it was Wednesday. Yeah, it must have been Wednesday, because I was headed to IHOP to meet Suzy for waffles — you know they have specials every Wednesday, don’t you…

This is how people get strangled.

Limiting your stories to just 3 lines helps you become more concise. 

The first task is trimming the excess verbiage and fluff.

The outline to follow is:

  • Set up: (the tease of the payoff to come)
  • Plot elementsaction: (the fulfillment of the tease)
  • Moral: Which doesn’t have to actually be “moral” in any righteous sense — it’s just the punch line of the story.

In the end, your reader should feel something:

  • Happiness (aww, the puppy got rescued)… 
  • Alarm (my God, I’m gonna keep a loaded gun by my bedside from here on out)… 
  • Astonishment (my neighbors are doing what at night?)… or, yes,
  • Greed (hey! I want that kind of deal, too!)

The less extraneous interruption, the better.

In other words: The story is about your reader, not you. 

Readers want to “see” themselves in your story, that they’re temporarily “in” the world you create with your words.

Have you ever read a story to a kid? 

Once they get the taste for it, just saying “Once upon a time…” will glaze their eyes over, as they eagerly prepare themselves to be transported to a world far different than their own.

The concept of “transporting” is critical. 

You’re driving the story, and it’s your responsibility to keep it on the road. Your reader will abandon you at the first hint you don’t know where we’re going… and he’ll despise you for getting his hopes up for a good tale, if you then dash them with a feeble punch line.

That’s why striving for pithy, concise stories is so important for writers.

Surely you have encountered this 3-line tactic classic: 

*** “I’ve been poor. And I’ve been rich. Rich is better.” ***

This is perfection. And you don’t have to be perfect to use the above example as inspiration. Just take note of all it entails:

It contains only the necessary details, nothing else. 

And did you notice the power words “rich” and “poor”? 

Each carries its own payload of emotional backstory, because in this context nearly everyone will have a feeling about the concept of being rich, and a feeling about being poor. Any long-winded rant about HOW poor you were, or HOW rich you were, is excessive.

Concise, memorable stories pack a punch.

Even better, there is a segue into the life of the reader in that 3-line beauty. “Rich is better” may seem like an obvious statement, but coupled with the set-up lines, it delivers a strong message that smacks of truth.

Now, the classical “rags to riches” sales pitch requires more detail, of course. But not so much that you lose the flow of a quick story, told with feeling, ripe with implications for the reader.

However, good ad copy doesn’t rest on implications.

It’s got to move quickly to specifics.

Here’s a simple 3-step tactic to bring your bad-ass story “home:” 

  1. Tell your story, aiming for the kind of breathless prose that makes your prospect afraid to exhale, for fear of missing a delicious detail. In this step, don’t worry about being perfect. Just get it all out on paper.
  2. Then, tidy it up by deleting everything that doesn’t need to be there. Deliver the punchline, or the moral, or just the ending. 
  3. Don’t try any clever transitions back into your sales pitch.

Instead, you merely say: 

And here’s what that means for YOU…

When writing to adults, you can’t assume anything. Adults are so numb to incoming data, they will suck up even a great story, absorb it, and move on to the next volley of arriving stimuli without coming to any conclusion whatsoever.

As the copywriter, it’s your job to complete the thought.

Not in any condescending way, of course.

You just continue the thread, going deeper into your sales message.

“I’ve been poor. And I’ve been rich. Rich is better. Here’s what that means for you:

You can continue on with your life believing that ‘money can’t buy happiness’ if that makes you feel better… but I’m here to tell you that having a pile of extra cash is actually a fabulous feeling… and your life will get better almost immediately. Plus, since I’ve already done the hard work of going from clean broke to filthy rich, I know all the shortcuts… and I’ll share them with you…

Et cetera.

So… here’s your assignment: 

Tell a short, 3-line story (using the concept of set up, plot, action and punch line)… and then write a one or two line segue bringing your story home to your reader.

You’re allowed to be nonsensical for this exercise.

In other words, you don’t actually have to be selling anything. You can make it all up.

Just think — really, really hard — about how the moral or punch line of your story MIGHT lead to a sales message.

To get good at storytelling, practice (a LOT) with telling tales that have emotional impact or meaning to you.

Everyone remembers their first legitimate kiss. (Those sloppy pecks from Auntie Mame don’t count.)

Most people’s stories tend to be pretty typical, but if they’re told right, they can still be funny, or shocking, or even corny in a way that gets the reader nodding in agreement.

And while it may not seem obvious that you could possibly sell anything, after sharing the humorous story of your first fumbling efforts at romance in junior high… just reflect on all the commercials and ads you’ve seen that blatantly couple sex and product.

Heck, they sell laundry detergent with sex. And while Warren Buffett might put you to sleep with his theories on compound interest, a real entrepreneur would explain the exact same concept from the deck of his yacht, surrounded by bikini-clad beauties. And get more attention, too.

Be concise, and bring it home to the reader.

  • You cannot “fail” at this exercise, because you’re just warming up your chops.
  • These are MEGA-important exercises if you want to get good. 

You COULD have been honing your storytelling chops all along, every day of your life. But you didn’t, did you.

Because no one challenged you to do it.

So, here is an excuse to engage that scary brain of yours, and force it to work for you, for once.

You don’t learn to ride without hopping into the saddle. And it’s okay to fall off, as long as you climb back on.

Stay frosty,


Want to get all of John’s killer copywriting secrets?

John Carlton didn’t become one of the world’s highest-paid copywriters by accident. Over the years, he developed a system that he follows every time he sits down to write.

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