Simple, clear help for your writing problems

If you tell your readers how they’re going to feel about information your article or story presents, you have serious writing problems. Telling people how they’ll feel—or how they should feel—is a common writing device. You see it most often in marketing copy: You’re going to love this offer, or You’ll be amazed when you read this.

Sadly, writers of every color seem compelled to tell you how to feel. Never do it. It seriously weakens the effectiveness of your message.

How do I Feel?

For at least some people, the natural reaction to being told how they think, act, or feel, is to take exception. Consider the clichéd reaction of characters in so many emotional scenes when a consoling friend remarks, “I know just how you feel.” “No one knows how I feel,” comes the angry reply. A little bit of that angry reply lurks in many readers. Stir it up, and you turn them off.

One of the greatest transgressions of this fundamental rule is when you tell someone in advance how funny your story or joke is going to be. Making such a claim is throwing down a challenge. Your joke had better be funny, because your audience may want to prove you wrong.

The magazine Reader’s Digest did this for many months: On one page in each issue, they ran three jokes, the first labeled Funny, the next labeled Funnier, and the last labeled Funniest as if they thought readers were too stupid to recognize when a joke was funny. Of course, not one of the jokes Reader’s Digest ran in that section was funny; EVER. When you tell readers how they’re going to feel about something, you need to deliver information that’s significantly more emotionally charged than you would if you simply presented the information.

Let the Facts Amaze

With the first article I wrote as a magazine editor, I learned this important lesson from my boss: let the reader decide. I had written a lead that included a statement such as, Here’s a clever way to solve that problem.

My boss suggested that if the solution is clever, the reader will see that it is. Stating that the solution is clever sounds boastful… and if the reader thinks it’s stupid, then maybe you’re a stupid writer. Why read the words of an idiot?

If you want readers to be amazed, write something amazing. If you want readers to laugh, write something funny. If you want readers to think you’re clever, be clever. But don’t tell readers that they’re going to be amazed or amused or impressed… you have no control over their reactions and at least some will resist your claim; you’ll lose them before you even tell them what you want them to know.

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