5 Ways to Write a Damn Good Sentence

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Literary theorist and legal scholar Stanley Fish said, “The skill it takes to produce a sentence, the skill of lining events, actions, and objects in a strict logic — is also the skill of creating a world.”

In other words, sentences are the engines of creativity. But your sentences don’t have to say much. They just have to say the right things.

So, when you are trying to get people to respond to your requests, subscribe to your email newsletter, or donate to your cause … you need to write seductive sentences, and you need to do it naturally.

Here’s how it’s done.

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5 Ways to Write a Damn Good Sentence

  1. 5 WAY S T O W R I T E A Damn Good Sentence
  2. Average copywriters write average sentences.
  3. You, I’m guessing, don’t want to be average.
  4. You want to be great. You want to be ! remarkable.
  5. That means you need to write damn good sentences … ! without even thinking about it … ! day in and day out.
  6. Do that and you’ll become an unstoppable writing machine. ! You’ll become a killer copywriter.
  7. See, everything you write begins and ends with a sentence.
  8. We have a number of research studies to thank for this discovery.
  9. The first one is primacy. ! It refers to our tendency to remember items at the beginning of a list.
  10. Other studies suggest you’ll always remember: ! more words from the end of a list ! than from the beginning simply because those are the last words you read.
  11. This is called recency.
  12. Together, primacy and recency make up the serial position effect, ! ! a term coined by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850 – 1909).
  13. T H I S C A N B E S E E N I N T H E S E R I A L P O S I T I O N C U RV E : !
  14. In 1946, Solomon E. Asch upped the ante with studies that evaluated the impact the position of words had on people. ! The study we care about involves how we position adjectives to describe a person.
  15. Read the following two sentences. ! ! “Steve is smart, diligent, critical, impulsive, and jealous.” ! “Steve is jealous, impulsive, critical, diligent, and smart.”
  16. These two sentences contain the same information.
  17. However, when a group of participants were given the first sentence ... ! ! they reported “Steve” in a positive light.
  18. And the group given the second sentence? ! Yep. ! They reported “Steve” in a negative light.
  19. Thirty years later, William Crano decided to sharpen the distinction the impact order has on meaning.
  20. His studies uncovered additional effects, particularly with the use of adjectives.
  21. Change of meaning hypothesis Early adjectives establish an expectation, which the reader then filters all the subsequent adjectives through.
  22. Inconsistency discounting Options presented later that don’t match earlier expectations are downgraded.
  23. Attention decrement hypothesis Early adjectives wield considerable influence than later ones (we saw this in the Steve sentences).
  24. All these conclusions are important when it comes to persuasive writing for several reasons.
  25. Take this long-winded sentence from Lisa Miller’s 2012 article “Listening to Xanax” ...
  26. “Twenty years ago, just before Kurt Cobain blew off his head with a shotgun, it was cool for Kate Moss to haunt the city from the sides of buses with a visage like an empty store and for Wurtzel to confess in print that she entertained fantasies of winding up, like Plath or Sexton, a massive talent who died too soon, ‘young and sad, a corpse with her head in the oven.’”
  27. That Miller ends this sentence with “young and sad, a corpse with her head in the oven” is NOT an accident.
  28. Decisions had to be made when crafting that sentence. ! ! Guaranteed it did not flow from Miller’s mind in the published form.
  29. It was a piecemeal affair. An experimentation with effect.
  30. And this is the craft of writing a damn good sentence.
  31. Bone up on your sentence-writing skills ! and those pieces of content will only get better ! and be more widely shared.
  32. Want to learn how? Follow me.
  33. Insert Facts 1
  34. This is nothing more than basic subject and verb agreement: ! ! “Moses ate a muffaletta.” ! ! Logical and consistent. The building blocks of a story.
  35. You insert facts by thinking through the 5 Ws: ! Who What When Where Why ! Think specific and concrete.
  36. Compare these two sentences. ! ! “On the first day of winter, Moses fed his muffuletta to the woolly mammoth.” ! “On the last day of winter, Moses fed his muffuletta to the woolly mammoth.”
  37. The significance is heightened in the first sentence, minimized in the second. ! All by one word. (Can you find that word?)
  38. And notice how your sympathies change when I write: ! ! “On the first day of winter, Moses fed his muffuletta to the three-day old woolly mammoth.”
  39. Those new facts heighten the emotional appeal of that simple story.
  40. Create Images 2
  41. It’s not a coincidence that the root of imagination is image.
  42. Imagination is the capacity for people to see the world you are trying to paint.
  43. Intelligent people like to use their imagination. ! ! So, don’t insult their intelligence by over-explaining … but also don’t abuse their intelligence by starving it.
  44. Use active verbs and concrete nouns and you will naturally create images. ! ! “The buzzard bled.”
  45. Introduce one (or all) of the five senses and you’ll enhance those images: ! ! “The screaming buzzard bled.”
  46. Use phrases like “imagine this” or “picture this” to signal to your reader you are about to paint a picture.
  47. “Imagine a fifty-something man in a blue long-sleeve shirt, the cuffs unbuttoned, his knuckles thick and coarse. He’s on the side of the road, quibbling over a stack of used cinder blocks with a merchant.” ! from 10 Productivity Tips from a Blue-Collar Genius
  48. In those two sentences, you learn the color of the shirt, the state of the cuffs, and the condition of his knuckles.
  49. You learn where he is and what he is doing in concrete language.
  50. The writer uses very precise language to tell you what he was doing. ! For example, the character in the story wasn’t talking, he was “quibbling.” ! ! Something entirely different than chatting.
  51. Evoke Emotion 3
  52. You can naturally get mood into your sentences if you follow the two previous steps. ! ! But as a copywriter you don’t want emotion to be an afterthought.
  53. You must carefully plan and manufacture emotion.
  54. This starts by asking: ! What is the dominant mood of your reader or customer? What problem is he or she trying to solve? Is it fear over losing a job? A spouse? A scholarship? Pride of donating to a good cause? Joy for finally getting muscular definition in his calves?
  55. Here’s an example.
  56. How often are these little tragedies repeated in your life? ! You write something clever, but everyone ignores it. You hear about a new opportunity, but don’t pursue it because you don’t have the skills or confidence to attempt it. You get overlooked by everybody – including your boss – because the guy in the next cubicle seems to know everything about SEO, email marketing, or copywriting. You hear about all the new clients your peers are picking up … but none are showing up at your door.
  57. In that short opening, I identified the relevant pain and agitated it so the solution was a no brainer.
  58. But notice those four conditions are all about rejection. Yet … ! I didn’t use the word “reject,” or a derivative, once. I didn’t tell you the emotion you should feel. I simply showed it to you.
  59. Big difference in the quality of writing.
  60. Make Promises 4
  61. As a copywriter, you aren’t merely interested in heightening people’s emotions for the sake of heightening emotions. ! Otherwise, you’d be a novelist or screenwriter.
  62. Entertainment is not a copywriter’s bread and butter.
  63. Getting action is.
  64. So, you need people to see hope in your sentences: ! What promises are you making to the reader in this sentence? What advantages will the reader gain? What pain will people avoid if they obey you?
  65. In the opening to The Dirty Little Secret to Seducing Readers, I wrote … ! “I’m guessing you want to write copy that sells. You want to write copy so irresistible it makes your readers scramble down the page — begging to do whatever it is you want when they’re done reading — whether it’s to make a purchase, send a donation, or join your newsletter.”
  66. The promise is that you can learn how to write in such a way people can’t resist your words. ! ! And that’s compelling for the right people.
  67. Practice, Practice, 5 Practice.
  68. Writing great sentences takes work.
  69. At first it may feel mechanical, wooden. ! That’s okay.
  70. The goal is to get to a point where you unconsciously blend these elements so they feel natural in the sentence and can’t be pulled apart.
  71. Sort of like when a golf instructor stops your swing to adjust your mechanics.
  72. That may feel mechanical and unnatural, but eventually your swing becomes natural and he stops interrupting you.
  73. Here are some exercises to help you improve your sentence writing.
  74. Exercise #1: Copy great sentences ! ! Hand-write 100 great first sentences. Memorize portions of great sales letters. Dissect killer lines.
  75. Exercise #2: Concentrate on your opening and closing paragraphs ! It’s arduous to consciously think about each and every sentence you write in a 500-word article. ! Concentrate your powers on the beginning and the ending.
  76. Exercise #3: Labor over headlines ! ! Your headlines won’t be complete sentences, but they offer you an opportunity to focus closely on what you are writing.
  77. Exercise #4: Labor over subject lines ! ! Unlike headlines, you can use your subject line in an unconventional way.
  78. “Thought of you while I was at the steam bath.” ! Who’s NOT going to open that email up? ! ! And make sure to measure responses, adjust, and test more ideas.
  79. Exercise #5: Labor over your tweets ! ! Twitter is the perfect mechanism for perfecting your sentences. ! You are forced to say a lot in 140 characters. And you get feedback.
  80. People either respond — or they don’t.
  81. Check for retweets, favorites, and replies. ! And if you don’t get a response, try sharing it again at a different time.
  82. Your Turn
  83. Each sentence in a 500-word article may not be great … ! ! but the more you practice the fundamentals, the closer you are going to get to perfection.
  84. Don’t give up.
  85. Keep plugging away.
  86. One sentence at a time.
  87. Click to learn more at copyblogger.com

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