5 Storytelling Mistakes Hurting Your Content (And Your Business)

So, you’ve written some copy for your new ad or product video or demo. Give yourself a pat on the back! You’ve defeated writer’s block and have some content actually on paper (or more likely, screen) — often the hardest part of writing. Now, it’s time to edit. Whether it’s your first script or your 101st script, you can always benefit by going back to the basics of how to write good copy.

We’ve compiled a list of some of the top five mistakes we see new storytellers and content creators make. Never fear— we’ve also included easy fixes for each of them. These aren’t just video tips either— if you’re setting out to write a blog post or even your first novel, these are for you. If you keep these five things in mind as you write, your content will be more sharable, searchable, and relevant. Great copy = more sales.

5. Directing from the page

When writing your script, try to not over-describe what’s happening. You don’t need to plan every gesture the actor makes or plan out every single moment. The best scripts often leave a little space for improv, because, come shoot day, anything can happen. The more you leave breathing room in your script, the more ready you are when inspiration strikes on set. When we don’t notice the writer’s hand moving the plot forward, we’re more engrossed in the story.

This can also apply to blog posts or product descriptions. You’ll want to be clear, but not bog your reader down with too many details. It entices readers to keep going if you add a little bit of mystery for them to think about. The beauty of good content is that it can pull different people in for different reasons.

4. Not enough meaningful content

Yes, it’s important that your video is well-shot, lit correctly, and that overall, it looks good. But that’s not the most important thing. You could have the best cinematographer in the world work on your ad, but if the story isn’t good, you won’t truly capture people’s attention.

It’s the same with any written content: you can use flowery language or good-looking photos with your words, but if there’s no depth, the audience will quickly forget about it. Substance over style.

The most common form of fluff we see here at IT MOVES IT are montages.

Rocky. Up. The Godfather. Some of your favorite movies have iconic montages that neatly tell a story in a matter of seconds. And while it can be tempting to emulate these greats, don’t rely on montage to tell your story.

This is especially true in a format like an ad or a product demo. You have precious little time to get your message across and montage without story falls flat. Instead of a montage of a family buying a home while a narrator talks about the bank that got them there, it’s much more intriguing to see the struggles this family went through on their way to buying a home. A montage can tell a story in a very short amount of time, but it needs to do exactly that: tell a story.

3. Passive voice

Your high school English teachers definitely got onto you about this one… and it turns out they were right. People often tend to write something like: “A doorbell is heard” or “the ball is thrown.” This can sound stiff or distant. Keep your writing active, always doing something. The doorbell BONGS. He HURTLES the ball. The more active you are, the better your pacing will be—and the more your audience will stay on its toes!

2. Not enough conflict

If you take away nothing else from us, let it be this: story does not exist without conflict. If you think you have enough, add more. And we don’t mean adding in a chase scene or a fistfight— we’re talking about real conflict. Don’t be afraid to put your characters through the wringer emotionally.

If you want more on that, take a look here or here. The conflict can be internal or external. Maybe the user in a product demo is knocked down by her competitors several times before she tries your product. Maybe the man in your Christmas advert is having the worst day of his life, but is trying his best to make his family’s day better. The possibilities are endless. Just make sure the conflict is there.

1. Tons of information that doesn’t support the story

The single most common mistake we see writers, marketers, and “storytellers” make is they include a bunch of plot-points or pieces of information that don’t actually support the story they’re trying to tell.

The root of this issue really comes from not knowing what your story is about, and how to connect with an audience on an emotional level.

Your story should be focused on the “why” of your product. If you sell soap, you’re not really selling soap. What you’re really selling is clean hands. Before you write a single word, identify the core of your story, the thing that your audience really cares about, and let that be your guide.

Whether you’re writing an email or a feature film, ask yourself if every word you’ve written in necessary.

Does this serve the story? Or am I bogging my audience down with stuff they don’t care about?

It’s important to be objective and audience-focused throughout this process, because you’re going to have to get comfortable killing your darlings. Sometimes you'll need to cut favorite lines or plot points that your personally love, but don’t serve the piece as a whole.

Figure out exactly what you’re trying to say, and get rid of everything that doesn’t help you say that thing.