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Perry Mason Copywriting Secrets

Published by: David Garfinkel on 06-03-2019

The TV series “Perry Mason” was an important part of my youth. It also turns out the writer who originally created the characters for the show was, for a time, the world’s best-selling author.

With more than 300 million book sales to his name, Earl Stanley Gardner was a real-world expert on how to communicate with large numbers of people in an emotionally compelling way. In today’s show, we extract some secrets from a book that details the years of work, and important discoveries, Gardner made in his never-ending quest to learn how to write the perfect story.

The book is called “Secrets of the World's Best-Selling Writer: The Storytelling Techniques of Erle Stanley Gardner.” Its authors are Francis L. and Roberta B. Fugate. You can get it on Amazon:

Here’s what we cover in the podcast:

1. Gardner’s carefully refined five-point checklist for the perfect plot

While this checklist is for fiction, there’s a lot in there that will also help copywriters improve their engagement and conversions.

2. Themes and motivations that magnetize readers to your words.

Here’s a list of what we discuss. These are directly from Gardner, via the Fugates’ book:


1. Tis sport to see the engineer hoist by his own petard (the villain who overreaches himself)

2. Man in position of power abusing that power and tripped up

3. The old man who is still young

4. Man who champions the underdog

5. Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?

6. The ugly duckling who becomes beautiful

7. Man who renounces reward and is doomed to independent loneliness

8. Downtrodden person suddenly asserting himself

9. The race is not always to the swift

10. Virtue is its own reward

11. There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip

12. Haste makes waste

13. He who hesitates is lost

14. Faint heart never won fair lady


1. Wealth

2. Happy sex companionship

3. Justice

4. Food

5. Happiness of environment

6. Opportunity to get ahead

7. Self-improvement

8. Wisdom . . . knowing more than another man

9. Influence

10. Put the overbearing boss in his place

11. Physical perfection or improvement

12. Domination of environment—mastery of others

13. Triumph of the underdog

One other gem I plucked from this incredible book:

“Don’t give your reader a headache.”

Gardner’s early tries were too thought-provoking for the markets he was writing for, and he got some serious literary smack-downs in rejection letters from his editors (one of whom later went on to work for The New Yorker). Good lesson for copywriters in this.

Shout-out to the great Scottish copywriter Colin Joss for giving me a heads-up about the book we quote from in this show.

Keywords: Copywriting storytelling screenplays

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