What makes readers hang on every word? What makes them eager for new writing? What makes readers return, time and again, to the same writing.
These are questions that I have been asking myself lately. I’ve been looking for that je ne sais quoi that distinguishes great writing from merely adequate writing.
In my search, I’ve been examining two areas: what I read and what others read. I pretty much know what I read. To determine what others read I’ve turned to The New York Times Best Seller List and SOYOUWANNA.com‘s list of the most popular books of all time.
I’ve discovered that writing that gets read falls into some categories:
- Escapism. This is a fiction category that people read to get away from the cares of everyday life. The Harry Potter series of books is probably the most well known recent example of this type of writing. It also includes drama, romance, action, and adventure stories.
- Gossip. People love to read about others and those others that they love to read about are celebrities. It’s no accident that People magazine and people.com are so popular. Gossip blogs abound.
- How To’s or Advice. Of course, the most read book of all time is the Bible. That’s not the only how to book people are reading, though. A quick glance at the best-seller list shows books on everything from how to lose weight to how to make money to how to save your marriage. (This is probably the category that I tend to write most often.)
- Reference. To be good, a reference has to be reliable. If it’s reliable I’ll use it again and again. If it’s not reliable, it’s no better than trash. The dictionary by my desk is an example of this type of writing. Wikipedia is a well-known online example.
- Informational. This is the news. To tell you the truth, I almost hesitated to put this category on the list because people don’t usually return to read a news piece again and again. News writing can be compelling, though. Timeliness is the key here. Nobody wants yesterday’s news.
The above list should give some interesting clues as to how to get (or how to write) compelling copy.
- Clue number one. What category of writing do you need? Do you need advice? Are your readers looking for escape? Or, is gossip pulling your readers in?
- Clue number two. Once you know what category of writing you need, you can also determine what that category requires. If you need reference material, you’ll need a reliable expert. If you need news material, you’ll need timely material.
- Clue number three. There’s a little of bad stuff in each category. Really, if just writing in those categories were enough, everyone would be doing it. (And anyway, what’s worse than a celebrity story about a non-celebrity?)
Contents (c) Copyright 2007, Laura Spencer. All rights reserved.