How to Paint Magical Words with Storytelling Impact

How to Paint Magical Words with Storytelling Impact

For many people, writing is an art, a creative talent akin to music or sculpture or painting. For many more, writing is simply a communication tool.

I lean more towards the practical side. I consider writing somewhat of a craft or trade – artistic, yet functional and practical, like plumbing or welding.

Writing doesn’t need to be art. It needs to be effective.

But effective doesn’t mean boring, flat, or two-dimensional. It doesn’t mean black and white.

It means painting pictures with your words.


You see, when we read, we literally imagine all sorts of pictures in our mind, like fleeting split-second movie scenes. It’s one of the reasons stories work so well – a good fiction novel makes you feel like you’ve literally stepped into another world.

You can nearly touch the warm, vivacious characters in their jewel-rich clothing of blues and reds. Hear the marketplace clangs and shouts from vendors as you walk between the dirty stalls in the cobblestoned square. The clop-clop of a horse warns of a creaky, haphazard wagon coming up just behind you and some stinking drunk stumbles into you with a muttered, “Move, willya?”

See what I mean?

All I did was write some words. On my screen, they’re black and white. But as I wrote, my mind swirled about, bringing imagery to my words so I could paint a picture with all its colours and sounds.

And as you read my words, your mind took them and painted a new picture in your mind – one you could nearly imagine as being real.

That’s a wonder – words let people see what doesn’t even exist.

And when you paint pictures with your words as you write for your business, you bring compelling visuals to your work. Imagine pulling a client in closer because he feels the emotion, sees the potential and can nearly taste the future after working with you.

This week, bring colour to your writing. Make movies for your readers’ minds. Pick a page of web copy and add some rich adjectives, metaphors or play up the mood of the scene.

Go ahead, paint pictures. And brighten up your world.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Hi James. Really enjoyed this post on storytelling!

    You mentioned rich adjectives… Master copywriter John Carlton suggests trimming back the adjectives and juicing up verbs to create action in your copy… Which is something you seem to come by naturally (you’re always lively and flowing).

    Joe :D

  2. You’re so right…I do a lot of writing for luxury hotels and that definitely requires writing in colour – shades of purple prose, mainly!

  3. Well written James. Especially in a marketing world that seem increasingly obsessed with online video, we don’t give enough credit to how a well written story will pull us into a post and hold our attention.

    In many ways it’s more engaging because we’re the ones creating the visuals.

    That, and well painted copy is much easier to create than a video. And it also is the basis for a good video. Whereas a video with a poorly written script doesn’t work at all.

    So if you’ve got to choose where to place your effort, get good at painting with words first.

    Thanks for giving my mind a good topic to contemplate James.

  4. Imaginative and inspirational! Thank you for this post – it makes me want to pick up pen and paper and write, write, write.

  5. You can paint big pictures with a few well-chosen words. Read some good flash fiction and you’ll see what I mean.

  6. have a lifetime of memory pictures. James, however, it only took one post from you to make me start releasing them to words. Thank you, thank you.

  7. Mark W. says:

    I couldn’t agree more … and this post reminded me of the drive-by shooting posts … lots of imagery in those posts!

  8. Hi James

    I’m a scientist, so when I write it tends to be factual and to the point. Writing technical documents requires big words and regimented order, things like double spaces after full stops and perfect grammar.

    Never been a great reader, but I do love reading books to my children. Rohald Dahl books are brilliant, and the comedian David Walliams is the kind of vivid writing that makes me get excited about words. I guess that means I’m just a big kid really.

    Andrew

    • Kids’ books are great, eh? I read to my kiddo as well, and sometimes I’m the one saying, “Oh, this one’s my favorite; let’s read this!” (She usually rolls her eyes and says, “That book is so OLD… but okay.” Hee!)

  9. What great imagery in this graph, James! Love it!!

    You can nearly touch the warm, vivacious characters in their jewel-rich clothing of blues and reds. Hear the marketplace clangs and shouts from vendors as you walk between the dirty stalls in the cobblestoned square. The clop-clop of a horse warns of a creaky, haphazard wagon coming up just behind you and some stinking drunk stumbles into you with a muttered, “Move, willya?”

  10. Haha, incidentally I was just thinking about a similar thing this morning. I was wondering how to write a chapter moving from one complete and vidid “word picture” to another.

    Good article, loved your example with the marketplace :)

  11. Brilliant! With every sentence of your post, you painted a picture and took me into an imaginary world.

  12. I appreciate your encouragement to bring color into our business writing. This line says it all: “Imagine pulling a client in closer because he feels the emotion, sees the potential and can nearly taste the future after working with you.”

    • Far too often, people neglect that it’s the emotions and senses that draw clients in. They think talking about their business product or service is compelling enough… but it isn’t. No one does anything unless we feel moved to do so.

  13. This was a real awakening for me in your awesome writing class, James: to realize that I had a story to tell and that I needed to hone my story telling skills. Wonderful article!

  14. I could read that paragraph over and over. Makes me wish there was an entire story wrapped around it.

  15. Good article and reminder – thanks. Bad business writing is too often a miasma of abstract nouns. I winced at “fiction novel,” though. Is there any other kind? :-)

    • Yes, of course – historical novel, for example. :)

      While ‘fiction novel’ is a bit of an oxymoron, people do tend to use the word ‘novel’ to mean ‘book’ and do so fairly interchangeably.

      In the name of clarity for a business audience who may not know that novel usually equals fiction (or should always, ha!), I stuck both words in :)

  16. We were transported into 18th century London upon reading your paragraph- and we much agree that, while we often tend to view writing as “boring, it is more than a communications tool- it is an art. It is about the imagination, and the connection between author and reader- a connection that you foster very well, if we may say so ourselves.

  17. Very interesting article. As a teacher for business students the art of “painting with words” seems worth to be visited!

  18. And a picture is worth a thousand words…I’ll take your advice and give it a try this week.

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  1. [...] James Chartrand argued in a post on Men with Pens that . . . when we read, we literally imagine all sorts of pictures in our mind, like fleeting [...]

  2. [...] Paint a picture of how life will improve when your customer experiences the results of your product or service.  Engage them in seeing themselves as they will be.  If your product is health related, see themselves as slim, vibrant, and glowing; they become the object of admiration and accomplishment. [...]

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