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Why They Don’t Believe You-How to Fix It—Old Masters Series

Published by: David Garfinkel on 09-05-2022

Our Old Master today begins a chapter of one of his books with this question:

How do you cope when readers do not believe what you have written?

And, he answers it:

You plug the gaps where belief leaks out.

Sounds like a great plan, but it leads to two more questions:

1. What are those gaps?


2. How do you plug them?

Now what’s especially interesting about this Old Master is that he’s not a copywriter. But he is a very successful writer and, for my money, the best teacher of how to write fiction you can find anywhere.

And, even more interesting -- the gaps where belief leaks out for fiction writers are largely the same ones that cause problems for copywriters. And so are the fixes. I’ve tweaked his ideas ever so slightly to make them a perfect fit for copywriters.

Our Old Master was named Dwight Swain. We talked about five mistakes Dwight Swain identified in the chapter “The Dynamics of Disbelief” from his book “Creating Characters: How to Build Story People.”

His main point in the chapter is, when you’ve done everything else right, if your editor doesn’t believe the story could have actually happened, then the editor knows readers won’t either, and therefore the editor won’t buy your story.

Good stories are believable, even though, if they are fiction, they never really happened. There’s a phrase, “the suspension of disbelief,” that describes the enjoyable experience we have when we’re watching something on the screen that we know is not actually true, but it’s done well enough so we can pretend that it is.

In copy, the same thing applies, with a twist. We’re not telling a story strictly for entertainment, at least not in direct response copywriting done right. We’re making a claim and we want to make it believable enough so that people take the action we ask them to take.

At least some of them.

Dwight Swain was one heck of a writer. Pulp fiction, magazine articles, screenplays, novels, and lots of other things besides some great books to help other writers.

Here’s a recap of the five mistakes we covered in detail on the show. Though you may already be familiar with the terms, in Swain’s view of the world, they have very specific meanings I haven’t heard about much elsewhere:

Mistake #1: You fall out of viewpoint

Mistake #2: You fail to do enough research

Mistake #3: You’re telling, rather than showing

Mistake #4: Gaps between motivation and reaction

Mistake #5: Not “planting”

Dwight Swain’s book: Creating Characters-How to Build Story People

Keywords: believability copywriting

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