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5 classic quotes from Dune that can make you a better copywriter

Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune is one of the most highly praised and influential sci-fi novels of all time. It hit new heights of popularity in 2021 with the arrival of Denis Villeneuve’s blockbuster adaptation starring Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson and Jason Momoa.

On 1 March 2024 the film’s sequel Dune: Part Two hit theatres. In celebration of the release of one of the most hotly anticipated movies of the year, and one of my favourite books of all time, I thought I’d dig a little into the world of Dune in today’s blog.

The story of Dune is vast. At its core, it follows the journey of Paul Atreides as he and his family take stewardship of the desert planet of Arakkis – or Dune. Dune is the home of “spice melange” – the most valuable resource in the universe – and the ginormous, deadly sandworm. Here he must come to terms with his role as a prophesied Messiah and do battle with the evil Harkonnen family.

Frank Herbert’s prose draws heavily from a range of philosophical and religious sources and so Dune is littered with countless nuggets of wisdom. Read on for five classic quotes from Dune and the lessons they can teach you about copywriting.

1. “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer”

The litany against fear is a mantra followed by the Bene Gesserit, a powerful sisterhood with mystical powers. Through selective breeding, the Bene Gesserit aim to produce the “Kwisatz Haderach”, a messiah-like figure who will provide them with great power, and lead humanity down the sisterhood’s desired path.

Fans of the 2021 movie adaptation of Dune may recognise the litany against fear. Paul’s mother Jessica – a member of the Bene Geserit herself – recites it as Paul is tested by the Reverend Mother:

“I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

For this copywriting lesson, we’ll focus on the first four lines of the litany.

A common sticking point for writers when working on an article is getting started. “Blank page syndrome” – the anxiety felt before starting a piece of writing – can be a real challenge. You may have done your research and be excited to start writing, but the pressure to do a good job can be paralysing.

As simple as it sounds, the answer is often to just start. Your first draft probably won’t be that good, but often the most important thing is to get words on the page. You can always come back and edit, or rewrite sections, but as long as you get your ideas down, the hardest part is over.

2. “What has mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises”

The second lesson comes from Gurney Halleck, Warmaster for House Atreides, and trusted friend of Paul.

This quote arises early in the book. Gurney wants Paul to do some weapons training but Paul refuses, saying he’s not in the mood. Gurney replies:

“What has mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises—no matter the mood! Mood’s a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset. It’s not for fighting.”

If we just replace fighting with writing, we have some sage copywriting advice.

The job of a copywriter is to write. We have deadlines and an ever-growing to-do list. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to sit around and wait for inspiration to strike us. When we finish one piece of writing, we have to move on to the next – even when we’re not in the mood!

3. “And always, he fought the temptation to choose a clear, safe course, warning ‘That path leads ever down into stagnation’”

Most of the chapters of Dune open with passages from the scholarly works of Princess Irulan, played by Florence Pugh in Dune: Part Two. Our next quote is one such example. Here Irulan discusses the limitations of prescience, or the spice-fuelled ability to look forward in time.

“Muad’Dib could indeed see the Future, but you must understand the limits of this power. […] He tells us ‘The vision of time is broad, but when you pass through it, time becomes a narrow door.’ And always, he fought the temptation to choose a clear, safe course, warning ‘That path leads ever down into stagnation.’”

Admittedly, the bit about the “vision of time” isn’t that applicable to copywriting – although I bet someone on the content team could make a tenuous link – instead, let’s focus on the final sentence of this passage.

When writing article after article, it can be easy to fall into habits. Many of the blogs we write at Yardstick cover the same topics and are structured in similar ways. As a result, it can be easy to go into autopilot mode and rehash old ideas.

There can be some benefit to this. If you’re writing about specific tax laws, there are only so many ways you can explain them. However, there will almost always be an aspect of an article that you can make unique by pushing yourself as a writer.

The intro is usually a good place for this. Can you find an interesting anecdote or fact to introduce a topic? This can be a powerful way to add some narrative to an article and peak the reader’s interest from the get-go.

4. “Beginnings are such delicate times”

Speaking of introductions, let’s focus on them next.

After his first encounter with the Fremen, the native people of Dune, Paul remembers the words of his mother:

“Beginnings are such delicate times.”

When writing blogs, the intro can often feel make or break. It’s vital for grabbing your reader’s attention and setting them up for the rest of the piece, because of this, the introduction can often become a friction point.

To avoid getting too hung up on your intro, it’s often a good idea to write it last.

With the body of your copy written, you know exactly what’s going to be in your article. This means you can properly foreshadow content in the intro.

Additionally, by the time you’ve written the rest of your article, you’ll already be in the writing flow and won’t have a scary, empty Word document staring back at you.

5. “I should’ve suspected trouble when the coffee failed to arrive”

On the planet of Arakkis, the Fremen ritually drink spice coffee, a hot beverage infused with the powerful narcotic spice melange.

Now, I’m not recommending you take powerful narcotics to help you write, nor am I lauding the benefits of drinking copious amounts of caffeine – although I’m sure many copywriters can attribute much of their work ethic to either tea or coffee.

Instead, this lesson relates to the importance of taking breaks.

I love writing, it’s why I do it for a job, but when you spend hours a day working on a piece, it can be hard to stay inspired.

This is particularly true when working on longer writing assignments. When you’ve spent five hours typing up and editing an interview, it’s tough to know if what you’ve got is any good!

In situations like this, it helps to take a break.

This could be a break from a particular piece of work. Unless I’m operating under a tight deadline, I rarely plan, write and check through an article in one sitting. I’ll often tackle these tasks one at a time, and work on other assignments between each step of the process.

Sometimes you don’t have this luxury and you just need to get a piece finished. This doesn’t mean you can’t take five minutes to make yourself a coffee before getting back to work – just maybe avoid the spice and stick to arabica.

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If you’re looking for an experienced team of marketing professionals to “spice” up your blog, website or social media, email or call us on 0115 896 5300.

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