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What magic can teach you about copywriting and the art of storytelling

In all honesty, I didn’t always want to be a writer.

Until the age of 14, I had my heart and career ambitions set on one thing and one thing only, magic.

I devoured magic books at the library, joined the Magic Circle’s Young Magicians Club, and spent every weekend learning tricks with cards, coins, rubber bands, and just about anything else I could get my hands on.

But as I grew up, my commitment to the craft wavered and I realised that not every teenager thought being able to levitate cards and vanish bottles at house parties was as cool as I did. And, by the time I reached my mid-teens, I had found my new obsession, and I was wholly focused on developing and improving my writing.

However, as I have continued to write and watch (though no longer practise) magic, I have come to realise that the two are not so disparate after all.

So, with that in mind, read on to find out what magic can teach you about copywriting and the art of storytelling.

Know your audience

Knowing and understanding your audience is imperative to the success of a magic trick.

There are logistical considerations. For example, the type of trick you can perform with an audience sitting in front of you is very different from a trick you can do with an audience standing in a circle around you.

There are also social elements. If you perform tricks at a party with friends or drunken guests, they will likely be less forgiving and more sceptical than an audience of strangers sitting quietly in a darkened magic theatre.

Moreover, you can often apply some general rules to your audience. For example, in his autobiography, David Blaine outlines which cards people tend to think of when asked on the spot:

  • Men – Ace, King, and Jack of spades, with the seven of spades or clubs as a runner-up.
  • Women – Queen of hearts, Queen of diamonds, the seven of hearts.

These are, of course, generalities, but a skilled magician can use their knowledge and experience combined with subtle psychological forces to make accurate predictions based on their understanding of the audience.

When it comes to the importance of knowing and understanding your audience, copywriting is no different.

Any copywriter worth their salt will tell you that the value of great copy comes from the author knowing their readership, and positioning their writing in the perfect spot between understanding where their audience is and showing them where they could be.

Your audience has pain points, problems, and knowledge gaps, and the better you know these, the better your copy will be.

So, like the magician finding the perfect trick to perform when encircled by an audience of strangers, you too should find the best place to position your voice and writing in relation to your readership.

Structure your writing around “the pledge”, “the turn”, and “the prestige”

Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film, The Prestige, brought the traditional three-part structure of magic and storytelling to a wider audience and told us, as all great stories do, something that we already knew but didn’t know that we knew.

It is perhaps easiest to explain the concepts of “the pledge”, “the turn”, and “the prestige”, using the first trick that many of you likely encountered as children, a coin vanishing and reappearing behind your ear.

  • The pledge – The pledge presents the audience with normalcy. The magician shows you a regular coin, perhaps one taken from your pocket.
  • The turn – The turn upends the normal world and shows you something extraordinary. The magician vanishes the coin in front of your eyes.
  • The prestige – The prestige is the final flourish, the wow moment that leaves the audience aghast. The magician shows you their empty hands, and then reaches behind your ear and finds the coin.

This simple structure has been a cornerstone of magic and storytelling for centuries, and the same three-step approach can be utilised in copywriting.

Let’s look at that structure again, but this time with a view to finding out how it can guide your copy. I’ll use the example of writing a piece about saving for retirement.

  • The pledge – This is where knowing your audience is vital. You want to present them with normalcy, which here means understanding them and what their problems are. So, for a piece about saving for retirement, this could be along the lines of noting that many people don’t top up their pension contributions even though they have enough income.
  • The turn – Here, you need to show your readers something new that upends the normal world. For the piece about pensions, you might write about how much difference additional contributions into a pension could make over decades, and how this might help the reader achieve the retirement they want.
  • The prestige – For the final flourish, you need to show your reader that whatever extraordinary thing they saw in the turn, can be theirs. This is also known as “the call to action”. Using the pension example, you might want to advertise your credentials as a leading pension planning firm and encourage your readers to speak to one of your experts today.

In both magic and copywriting, the aim is to transport the audience from a world with which they are familiar, to a new world where what they took to be “normal” has been left behind. The pledge, the turn, and the prestige provide a time-honoured structure for facilitating that transportation.

Focus on showmanship and find your unique style

Just as some people say that there are only seven narratives and that authors find different ways of telling the same stories in new ways, there are a basic few principles in magic that can give you the keys to myriad tricks and illusions.

Among magicians, Derren Brown is well-known for repackaging old mentalism tricks, but performing them with such style and panache that he makes them his own and appear entirely fresh.

Some magicians are silent throughout their acts and enhance their performance with music, mime, or elaborate set designs. But every magician, no matter their style, uses their showmanship to ensure the audience remains captivated throughout.

Similarly, with copywriting, there are only so many ways to write persuasively and market a product or service.

But using your writing skills, you must try to find innovative and stylish ways of captivating your audience and giving them a fresh take on a topic.

You could do this by relying on your deft use of the English language, or by providing new insights on old themes, such as showing how bass playing or science fiction films can help improve your writing.

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If you’re looking for a marketing agency that can offer a bit of magic and transform your blog, website, or social media, email or call us on 0115 896 5300.

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