Your reader is often better at creating stories for themselves than you are at creating stories for them.


There’s a chewy sentence!

Hardly the most engaging, right?

So, thanks if did you chew through it and got to this one.

Indeed, despite that sentence being a total mouthful, I do think it’s the most straightforward way of getting across an idea I’d like to share with you today.

It’s an idea that could help you get into your readers mind on a much deeper level and avoid over-promising or being too hyperbolic in your copy.

Sound like a useful idea?

Good. Let’s dig behind that chewy first sentence…

In our heads, we’re all great storytellers

Years ago I had a series of meetings with one of those chaps who get all touchy-feely about what you really want to achieve in life and whether you’re really doing what you want to do.

You know the type…

Speaks really slowly. Says ‘sure, man, I get it’ far too often. And has a weird inclination at the end of every sentence to say, ‘or maybe you’re the paranoid one’ and then nod in an overly deliberate way.

Most people react badly to these types….

“What do you know about my problems, jerk… shove your faux-psychology shit up where it don’t shine. I’m in complete control and I am meaning to be this stressed… so screw you and your Buddhist waff.”

Er, anyway…

This particular guy was actually pretty smart and he didn’t seem too touchy-feely. He wanted to offer practical advice and was self-aware enough to avoid the clichés of the trade.

Over the few sessions I had with him, I picked up a few interesting ideas that actually helped with my copywriting.

Of course, that wasn’t the reason we had him in to our business, but it was a welcome bonus.

One of the most interesting ideas that stuck in my mind was his skit on how small misunderstandings can spiral out of control when you don’t communicate.

I’m really interested in communication and think most problems in the world – let alone in business – are caused by a lack of it.

Us humans were given the incredible power of being able to talk to each other in incredibly specific ways – yet we so often choose to mumble our way into unnecessary arguments and conflicts.


This self-help dude describes a situation where you’re running late at work…

It’s completely innocent; you’re just stuck in a meeting or whatever…

And because you think it’s ‘nothing’, you don’t communicate to your partner. You figure the meeting will be over soon and they won’t worry too much if you’re a bit late.


But the meeting goes on 30 minutes more and because you figured it was OK to begin with… you’ve still not told your other half. It’ll be done soon. It’s, er, OK.

And sure, at home, you’re partner is thinking… that’s weird, they’re normally home by now… must be held up at the office.

Still, all fine. For now.

But the boss still won’t quit it and that suck-up member of staff you all hate keeps asking questions for no reason.

Meanwhile, it’s an hour at home now and you’re partner is really starting to think something is wrong… they wonder if you’re in the pub drinking… they wonder if you’re having an affair… they wonder if you’ve had an accident on the way home.

You’re still just sat in a meeting sneering at why Jimmy in customer services still doesn’t get it… and why your boss won’t just tell him to ‘do one’.

But back at home, as far as your partner is concerned…

You’re dead.

They figure you wouldn’t have not told them if you were having a drink… you’re butt ugly so you can’t be having an affair… so you simply must have veered off the motorway and be laid at this very moment in a ditch with the steering wheel jammed into your throat.

Your partner is worrying about life insurance… funeral arrangements… how soon it will be before it’s socially acceptable for them ‘to see other people’…


You finally get out the meeting to find 30 missed calls from various members of your family, answering machine messages lamenting your death and a confused life insurance salesman asking you to call urgently.

The point of the exercise was to show how – even in a completely innocent situation – a lack of communication could lead to a huge misunderstanding.

But, ever on the lookout for copywriting insight, I saw something else too…

It’s human nature to tell stories

The way the misunderstanding escalates so easily rang true to me…

And I’m sure you can imagine how such an escalation could easily develop between you and your own partner in similar circumstances.

What’s interesting is it reminds us of a fact of human nature…

We are great at telling ourselves stories.

And more than that…

We are very good at filling in blanks with magnificent flights of fancy.

Yet when it comes to writing copy, we so often try to present pictures to readers…

And we make assumptions that our beautifully painted pictures will look the same in their minds as they do in ours.

But how realistic is that?

Take a simple income forecast…

I say you could make an extra £20,000 over the year and I think you will agree that’s a pretty good extra income.

And sure, if your income is £20,000 at the moment, you probably will think that’s great. You’re doubling your income.

But if you already make £200,000, an extra £20,000 isn’t going to seem quite as impressive.

But if I say you could make thousands of pounds a month in extra income…

How much do you imagine that could be?

Obviously it now depends on your current income:

If you only earn £20k, you’ll probably imagine one or two extra thousand a month… and you’d be happy with that.

If you earn £200k, you’ll probably think about an extra £10 or £20k a month… and you’d be happy with that.

See what I mean?

Now… an interesting point…

The seasoned copywriter will be thinking that I appear to be recommending being vague in copy, which is akin to recommending a vegan eat steak tartar.

Don’t worry: I’ve not gone mad…

Specificity is STILL the rule of thumb…

BUT there are moments when you can benefit from letting the reader do the painting…

Let your reader imagine how big the opportunity could be – don’t let your income put a limit on their potential income.

Let your reader picture their perfect life – don’t let your imagination put a limit on their imagination.

And let your reader think about what they have at risk – don’t let your fears put a limit on theirs.

Like I said in that chewy first sentence…

Your reader is often better at creating stories for themselves than you are at creating stories for them.

Save yourself some work and let them tell their own story.



Glenn Fisher is an author, copywriter, podcaster and speaker. After a number of years working in the local council, he left to become a copywriter and founded, a free online resource for direct response copywriters and marketers. For over a decade he worked with The Agora, a multi-million pound international financial publisher before leaving in 2018 to write freelance. His first book, The Art of the Click, has quickly become an Amazon bestseller and was shortlisted for the Business Book Awards. He is the host of the popular All Good Copy Podcast and regularly writes and consults for numerous businesses, brands and ad agencies. He lives happily with his partner Ruth and dog Pablo on the east coast of England.

1 Comment

  1. I understand the principle of creating a vision that your reader can plug themselves into – and how being too specific can break the spell. What are some pointers to writing copy that helps to build a vision, a dream?

    By the way – Is there a connection between DoubleN Publishing and the double ‘n’ in Glenn?

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