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  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Mahfuz

E116. Tell Stories to Write Copy that Converts with Eddie Shleyner



Below is an AI-generated transcript and therefore it may contain errors.


Francisco Mahfuz  0:00

Welcome to the Storypowers Podcast the show about the power of stories that people who tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host keynote speaker and storytelling coach Francisco Mahfuz. My guest today is Eddie Shleyner. Eddie is a a copywriter, content marketer, and the founder of VeryGoodCopy.com, a blog and newsletter about copywriting and creativity that has more than 53,000 subscribers and has been chosen twice as the “Email Newsletter of the Year” by HackerNoon.


He’s also a LinkedIn “Top Voice” in Marketing & Advertising, with more than 92,000 followers and over 1M content views per month. As a copywriter, he’s done work for people like Google, Forbes, Hubspot and Yelp, and was chosen as “Marketing MVP of the Year” during his time as Copy Chief at G2.com. Eddie is a master storyteller, and it causes to learn from his weekly emails. So you can imagine how heartbroken I was when he turned down coming on the show. In fact, he actually accepted coming on the show, listen to it, and then turned it down. And it's only taken me two years to convince him this would be very good fun. And by the face is making right now, I might have already gotten as off on the wrong foot. So no pressure. Ladies and gentlemen, the non drunk Hemingway of coffee at the slider. Eddie, welcome to the show. Francisco


Eddie Shleyner  1:19

that was an amazing intro. I really appreciate you. And I am sorry that it's taking so long to come on. I'm glad I'm here now though. So I appreciate you. One


Francisco Mahfuz  1:30

of the things I found out when I was doing the some of the research that I normally do for this shows was that that you and I have some weird things in common. So we're both foreigners. I mean, you're not American originally. Neither am I. So I'm from Brazil. You are from where again? In Eastern Europe.


Eddie Shleyner  1:49

I was born in Ukraine. I was born in Kyiv. Okay,


Francisco Mahfuz  1:52

we are both English majors, I believe. Yes.


Eddie Shleyner  1:55

I studied English and and literature and narrative and in college. Yeah. Yes.


Francisco Mahfuz  2:00

Same. Same here. Do you remember by any chance? What was your? Your final paper?


Eddie Shleyner  2:07

Oh, no. Oh my gosh, my final paper. I wrote so many papers in college. You know, that's what we did as English major. So I don't remember what it was. I can't I don't even know if I remember any one specific paper from college does feel like that was so long ago. Do you remember your last favourite?


Francisco Mahfuz  2:25

Oh, I do. And I've read for regular listeners of this show. I'm sorry. You're gonna have to listen to the hear this again. But you know, I don't get many English majors of this show. But he has my final paper had the most pretentious title. I think any final paper in English Literature ever had. It was called. I wanted to breathe smoke, violence, self destruction in the search for meaning from American Psycho to fight club.


Eddie Shleyner  2:54

Wow, that sounds fascinating. At least. How long was it? You're talking about? Like a thesis? This was like your thesis? Yeah.


Francisco Mahfuz  3:02

Yes. The Yeah. The final final paper I did, you know, to get me out of university and find out that my degree had absolutely no use in the real world. Yes, that paper. Right,


Eddie Shleyner  3:13

right. I guess I never, we never really, I never really had a thesis paper that I had to write, I had to write, there were some classes where I had to write, I remember, only only papers. So I had like four, four papers that I had to turn in, throughout the semester, and they were all 25% of my grade. Or, you know, there was like tests, and then the test was 50% of your grade. And then the paper was 50% of your grade or something like that. But I never had like an actual thesis, like a, like a, like a dissertation or a master's or anything like that. So yeah, I never wrote anything like that. But, you know, I actually, English is one of those degrees where I feel like I've I've used it a lot because it really taught me I think, how to think broadly speaking, which, which I think is is pretty typical for you know, that that that type of like non technical degree, you know what I mean? Like you just kind of like you look, you come out of college with a with an education like that, and you weren't to see things in a different way. You weren't to notice things. You learn, I guess I learned how to write a little bit. But really, my writing education happened after college, I think, you know, after I got a job as a writer, as a copywriter, that's when I really started to learn how to write well. And in college, I feel like I was really just learning how to think about things and think about narrative and think about characters and think about, I guess, storytelling more broadly, but after college is when i is when I think I became a much better writer. Because before college, you know, when I was studying literature, I was kind of writing like a, like a fire hose. You know, I was writing very long, flowery sentences. You know, I really didn't appreciate brevity or concision. And it was only after I became a copywriter, that that those those things became important. And so I had to kind of, you know, really, really in earnest make an effort to, to learn how to write clearly and concisely, you know, with brevity in mind.


Francisco Mahfuz  5:08

It's interesting because a lot of people, when I tell them that I have an English Literature degree, they always assume that that that makes complete sense, given that I work now with storytelling. And then I always think to myself, I mean, I'm happy to let you believe that, but I'm not sure that I like any of the storytelling that I do. Now, I struggle to see how any of that were things that I learned when, through university, I mean, I read a tonne of books, I've always read a tonne of books, that obviously helps. But when I think back of the types of things we looked at, in university, I remember some really interesting classes that, that looked at the motives of characters and looked at representation and looked of different ways of portraying different things. And there's this one class in particular that remember, there was a class about Gothic literature. And there was one, the teacher the professor was amazing was the guy who ended up being my the mentor for my final paper. And he remember when we looked at Dracula, and he said, you know, Dracula, was a book very much of its time. And one of the things Dracula did that was completely uncommon is Dracula is not told through narration, pay attention when you're reading, it's, it's a newspaper article, and then it's a recording that Van Helsing made. It's a letter from Mina Harker, to someone, like the whole book is this different types of media. And they're using that to convey their story. And I also always remember how he talks about how Dracula was the personification of all fears of the time. So Dracula was a foreigner, he had like dubious sexuality, he was very concerned about money. So there was perhaps some like a Jewish angle to what they were saying. And none of those things are things you would necessarily pick up on, if somebody doesn't point you to it. So that type of stuff, I remember getting a lot more tune Dean, because of university, the writing itself, not so much. Yeah,


Eddie Shleyner  7:15

I agree with you on that. I think a lot of an English education is really learning to understand what the writer was doing, not necessarily how the sentences were structured, or the words that were being used, but like, how, what they were doing to create that kind of emotional connection or to relay that message. I remember starting studying like literary minimalism and realism in college. So you know, Raymond Carver, Hemingway, kowski. A lot of these writers use techniques that like literary realism, like minimalism, where you didn't really get to hear the thoughts or the internal perspective of the characters, you really just got to, they really just the author just showed you what the character was saying, and what the character was doing. And this created kind of voids in the writing like holes in the writing that the reader had to fill in for herself. And when you do that, as a reader, you you fill it in with your own worldview, your own kind of perspective, your own lived experiences. And that makes the writing much more realistic, in a way much more palpable. And so that's that's a lot of what I do. Now. I've taken that certainly from, from my education and use it a lot in my writing. Now, I'm very good copy. And in general in copywriting is I don't really, I don't really let the reader know what my characters or if I'm writing about myself, what I'm thinking in that moment, I'm really kind of just trying to show them a picture of like, what's going on almost like a vignette, like a moment in time, you know, telling the reader what the character is saying, tell the reader what the character is doing, and then letting them fill in the holes for themselves. And this creates much more kind of visual experience for the reader. Yeah, that's


Francisco Mahfuz  8:55

something I've I've noticed you do a lot. And it's not it wasn't naturally the way I told stories or wrote stories. But one thing I noticed is that when I'm writing a story, and which is typically something I'm going to post on on LinkedIn, what I've noticed is that using dialogue without any exposition, or basically no non realistic exposition is more what makes for a better story. But more more importantly, it makes for a shorter story, because it isn't surprising to me once I started realising it is how much you can infer in a way that gives the audience enough context by just the way characters talk to each other. Whereas if you try to do explicit to use exposition, it just becomes lengthy and I was like, but I can say this with one line of dialogue and get that okay, this is a family dynamic that has been going on for a while. If I say oh, you know how our uncle is. But if I try to do that in long form of exposition, it just becomes a horrible long sentence like, my uncle was the type of person who, I don't ever find it as good. I don't know, if you've, if that is a motivating reason to use realism when you do it, or is that just a byproduct of it?


Eddie Shleyner  10:18

No, I think it isn't motivating. I mean, you know, people, that's how people communicate in general, right, we just we have conversations with one another. And just like you and I are sitting here, I don't know what you're thinking, I don't know what's going on in your head, I can only infer, based on what you're doing, and what you're saying, you know, based on what your face is doing based on what your body language is doing, and based on the words that you're speaking. And that's typically how people communicate. I mean, nobody is a mind reader. And so when you write that way, it becomes a much more realistic situation for the reader. Because we're, we have to infer all the time. And our minds are racing all the time, when we're with other people, you know, we're always kind of like, consciously or otherwise processing information and trying to make something of it. And so when you do the same thing, and in writing, you get the same result, and becomes much more realistic and compelling. It's definitely a motivating factor. I do it. I do it consciously. I think I


Francisco Mahfuz  11:09

guess the question I have, when I think about about using realism, as the main form of storytelling, for the first one I have is, I think it works a lot better in writing than it does orally. I think it's difficult. I haven't tried it with any great effort so far. But I find that when you are telling the story, if you don't fill in some of the things about you know how you're feeling. Sometimes it's harder to give that impression, because you're not describing necessarily your actions, or you cannot describe your actions in a way that is ever as evocative as you would in writing, because it will sound forced people don't talk that way. So if you tried using evocative imagery, it might just sound a bit weird while you're describing it that way. And this has been my experience. And the other concern would be that people might not be you might not get it, right, I think you need to be a better writer to convey everything you need to convey. If you're not going into the characters, minds and feelings at all, then if you're saying it, and sometimes if you don't do that, well, the lesson of the story that you're, you know, assuming you're trying to get a lesson or a point out of that story, it might feel tacked on, if you if you haven't made done a good enough job of getting everything else across with with a realistic approach. That's my non resistance. I have no resistance. That's my reservations to it. Yeah.


Eddie Shleyner  12:38

I mean, yeah. And so you know, and sometimes, you know, I think of stories like Hills Like White Elephants, like the, the Ernest Hemingway story about the pregnancy and, and the abortion and, and how you really had to read between the lines there, and you really had to think about that story. And you had to arrive at it independently, you know, the reader had to really be thoughtful about what Hemingway was trying to say. And sometimes sometimes that's more interesting as a reader than if everything is kind of spoon fed to where if everything is kind of laid out very clearly. And precisely, I guess there's this benefit to making the reader think for yourself, and be thoughtful, and maybe not necessarily know exactly what's what's happening, you know, not have any kind of definitive answer to what's happening. It's kind of like, there's this there's a technique, Hemingway does it, Raymond Carver does it a lot. It's called the Zero ending, where you end the story in the middle of an epiphany is essentially, you know, the characters is having this experience, whatever it may be, and the story ends at the point at which they go through some sort of transformation, you know, they have a new perspective on the world, or they have a new perspective on the situation that they're in, or you know, that their, their worldview changes. And by leaving the story in that moment, is very powerful. Because now, the epiphany that the character just had becomes an epiphany for the reader. And the reader takes that epiphany into their life, and it transcends the story. It's not just on paper anymore, you know, now you, you have to walk around as a person with this epiphany with this knowledge with this new worldview that the character had. And so that's one way that literature changes us, I think, by giving us a perspective that we have to carry with us now, for better or worse sometimes. And so it's not, that's not always, you know, very rarely is that is that has the author made that clear what that epiphany is or what that what that new worldview is? It's just, it's just there for you to kind of hold with you, you know, and so it's very powerful. And so sometimes, sometimes it's not necessarily necessary to, I guess, spell it all out. I tried to think about that as well. You know, it doesn't always work. You know, it's not the most like, it's not the most popular way to write on social media for To say, You know what I mean, it's not, you know, you're not going to get as many, as many people understanding and and so you're not going to get as much play. But the people that do get it, I think it'll stay with them longer and it will be more profound for them. And maybe those will become more loyal and more fervent kind of readers of yours.


Francisco Mahfuz  15:17

Let me just understand, because I think I know exactly what you're referring to. But let me just be 100% clear, because if I go off on my own, thinking about what you just said, I want to make sure I get it perfect, right. So when you say the zero ending is in the cloud, and that the author is not spelling things out, were you saying is that they've had the epiphany, you can clearly see on the page that something has happened, and something has changed for them. But the story ends there, there is no okay. And then after that this is how their lives changed or anything like that. You have to imagine that you have to try and figure out what's happening. Is that Is that what you mean by zero family?


Eddie Shleyner  15:55

Yeah, that's exactly it. I mean, a great example of a zero ending. It's a story called cathedral, by Raymond Carver, probably my favourite short story. And it's about a couple who was being visited by the wife's friend, the wife's friend happens to be a blind man. And the husband is prejudiced against blind people, against people with disabilities in general, he's not very well, he doesn't, he doesn't have sympathy or compassion for people, I think the way that most people do, or most people should. And so throughout the story, he's telling the reader all these derogatory things about this blind person, making fun of him to his wife, you know, being in general kind of an asshole. And at the end of the story, after they've met, and after the blind person comes in and has dinner, they're sitting on the couch, and his wife goes to sleep, and they turn on the TV. And this is before, you know, the story takes place before we had cable or anything. There's only a few channels on TV and one of the channels. It's kind of like a PBS documentary about cathedrals, and they're watching and they're listening. And the husband asks their guest, if he even knows what a cathedral looks like, if he could even imagine what cathedral looks like, you know, because he can't see. And his guest says, Well, why don't you get a pen. And once you get, you know, a shopping bag, like a paper shopping bag and bring it back, and we'll do something and he goes, and he gets a shopping bag, he takes the onion skins from from out of the bag, which is a great visual in and of itself. But he takes this bag and he brings it back, he brings a pen. And the guests, the blind man starts asking him to draw the cathedral, and the husband starts drawing it. And he starts adding more detail to it. And eventually the blind man puts his hand on the husband's hand and kind of traces it with him. And you could tell that he's starting to see the Cathedral, the blind person. And you could tell that through some exposition, the husband is starting to understand that he's helping this man see the cathedral through this exercise. And I think if I remember correctly, the story ends with the wife waking up and coming downstairs and saying, saying, What are you doing, and the blind man says we're drawing the cathedral. And the husband says it's really something. And that's it. And that's the end of the story. It's just this one sentence, it's really something. And then that's the end. And the book ends was the last story, I think in the anthology. And that's a perfect example of a zero ending because it's this, this whole build up, you know, it's, it's this whole Carver is showing you this, this person that has completely perverted worldview, you know, and a completely wrong worldview as far as as far as I'm concerned. But then through this exercise, he comes into something else, he comes into the light, and he realises maybe that he was wrong, not just in this moment, but maybe he realises that he was wrong throughout his entire life. And he sees many moments where he was wrong. See, he sees many moments where he he let people down and he let himself down. And Carver leaves you with that epiphany? And who knows who the reader is. Maybe the reader shares that opinion. You know, Carver wrote that story. And in the 80s, I'm sure a lot of people have that opinion of blind people or people with disabilities. And so I think that by leaving you with that epiphany, and by making the reader take that epiphany into their own lives into their own real world, that zero ending did something for them, you know, and that and that's the power of it. I think. So is really, I feel bad. I talk so much and I, you know, explained so much of the story, but but in a way, that's what zero endings are supposed to do. They're supposed to take you on this long journey, you know, and they're supposed to, they're supposed to be long and they're supposed to have one perspective through 99% of it, you know, and that last 1% when everything changes, that's where they leave you and then suddenly, everything changes, you know, everything's different. Yeah. So


Francisco Mahfuz  19:52

what were I think that is different than then what then what I was thinking of because when it comes to oral story, Telling at least, I think the best stories and right after the moment of change, but it's not always possible to convey that or at least that's not something that's done as much in oral storytelling is not is conveying that you've gone through that massive change without any reference to your feelings, or through how you think, or, you know, their lines like in this was the last time that I that's usually the most minimal approach that people take to avoid giving, like a moral of the story, but you just imply very strongly how you've changed even though you don't go into detail of what happened in your life after I think I haven't tried the I don't think I've tried to zero anything in when I tell a story orally to someone I think people have done that loads of times. But But yeah, I might have to toy around with it. Because the concern I think would always be if you're doing it kind of in real time in the person is right there. And particularly if you're doing this in a business type of context. So it's a potential client, you're speaking as I do, there is only so much you can let people sit with the story and let it work on them. Because I think some people watch stuff like this where you're watching a TV show, it doesn't might not hit you straight away. You might go, Huh, let me just reread those last final one, how can I Okay, fine night, I think. And you can go back to parts of the story, whatever. If you're doing this in real time, and this is a conversation and using the story for to convey a particular point, then I think zero ending might require a lot more skill to pull off, I know that the oral storytelling is now really your thing. You I think everything you do is quote unquote, on the page. But yeah, I've just tried to translate some of these techniques. And I think some of them might be slightly harder to pull off. Unless you're, you know, a tremendous storyteller that can do that in real time. And you know, for sure people get it straight away. But having said that, I do think that one of the most incredible skills that any storyteller can develop, regardless if it's on the page, or in person, or orally, is what is the what are the sentences or words that you can use, that convey a universe of meaning without you having to spell it out. And I remember, I heard the story by someone who's not a professional storyteller or anything, and she was talking about her childhood. And it was something like, you know, she, she's playing with her sisters. And then the door opens, she knows it's her father in there, and the sisters run upstairs and sort of hide in the style just peeking through. And so you know, so we're looking to see how that looks when he comes in. So we know if it's going to be a good day or not. And that alone can tell you not exactly what's happening in what happened in that kid's childhood. But it's like, well, there's a tension there that you can get grasp. But there is there is a dynamic that you can kind of understand, I think she might have implied a little more than I'm remembering that we know when we look at him. If this is a day, we have to hide until he goes to sleep until he falls asleep on the sofa. And any quickly to get an idea this guy's probably a drunk, or at least his violent or his the there's something wrong with the dynamic between the father and the children. But they don't say any of that. It was just do we have to? Is this a night we have to hide? Or is it a good night? And I always find that when I read stories, I tried to say okay, well, what can I just have a character say that sounds natural. That eliminates a whole bunch of exposition, and not always easy to do, but tends to work much better when you really can pull it off. Yeah,


Eddie Shleyner  23:47

no, I know what you mean. Yeah, I was actually just, there's this thing called the Schmidt String Index, I think it's called the Schmidt sting index. And it's basically this this, a scientist went out and got stung by a bunch of poisonous insects, and wrote about the stings. And he wrote about, like, how, how painful they were on a scale of one to four. And he wrote about the paper wasp sting, he gave it a 1.5 out of four. And he described it as a lonely pain. And I think that's what you're talking about. It's just like that, that word lonely is so loaded. You know, it could be lonely in the sense that, hey, you know, it's just like, really concentrated on that one point, that one point where it was stung. It's not like going through your entire arm or something. It's just like in that one spot. But lonely is so work is so loaded in a lot of different ways. You know, it's just like this. It's this. It's this emotional thing, loneliness and like, maybe that's what he was alluding to, we don't really know could have been could have been alluding to the physical part of it. But I like to think he was talking about just this. The loneliness of a of a wasps thing is that you have to endure alone, that you have to endure it by yourself. You know, nobody can help you. Nobody can make it better. You just have To sit with it, you know, and that's a very lonely feeling sometimes, you know, just like, it might be lonely when you lose someone or you lose something, and there's nothing that can really help you come out of that situation, you just have to sit with it and, and let it kind of come over you. And so that's one of those words where it's kind of could be physical, it could be something else, you know? Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz  25:20

it's very, it's very evocative. Something else I want to ask you in very specific storytelling technique is to do with how you how you start a story, because what I noticed when I'm comparing the way I start a story, when I'm telling it in when I'm writing it, particularly I'm writing it for social media, which is the mean that I normally write stories in, is that when I'm telling it doesn't really matter, like it doesn't need to be particularly catchy, as long as the beginning sounds like a story, which usually involves a time and place, if you give a time in place, then it sounds like a story. And I think all the all the brain triggers that are that are engaged in a story happens, they are engaged, and then you are off to the races you go. When I write it, though, particularly on social media, because we have this whole stop the scroll thing and all of that, I find that I have to be a lot more either, I have to be a lot more thoughtful about my first line, or I use this technique that have I haven't used it. And I have actually, which is I get the strangest line from the story, the strangest piece of dialogue from the story. And I put it up there without any context. So that's been what I found when I was trying to write stories. Now, a lot of the stories you write are in your newsletter, I don't think people are about to close the email after they read the first few lines because it was too boring. But do you do you pay particular attention to how you start the story? Or not so much?


Eddie Shleyner  26:52

Yeah, of course. Yeah, I think I think in a way, part of what you're describing might be like in media res, that technique starting in the middle of things, you know, where you drop your reader in the middle of a problem, or you drop your reader in the middle of a conflict or something strange, something inexplicable. You know, I think Bukowski started his first novel post office with it started as a mistake. You know, what started as mistake, you know, you kind of get people to ask that question. So, yeah, you know, I always like to not always, but oftentimes, I start with dialogue. And the way I write is, I think, you know, I'm very good copy, I write these little articles, these little micro articles, but they have three elements to them. So they have the story, the narrative, and then they have the lesson that I'm trying to teach. So the takeaway about creativity or copywriting, and then I have like a word count, you know, so say, I want to write this thing in 350 words, so for me, it's like, okay, well, how do I bridge this narrative? And this takeaway, this concept, this principle, this technique, what have you, how do I put them together in 350? Words, and, you know, if I do that properly, then then micro article comes out. But I think, yeah, I think the most efficient way to do it is to start with dialogue with a scene, you know, two people talking because again, like we were saying earlier, you know, that talking is a really efficient way to kind of relay a moment in time instead of just exposition. So just, you know, telling telling the reader what's going on. So you know, when you when you use dialogue, you kind of let let the reader fill in the blanks for yourself. And if the dialogue alludes to some to a problem to an issue, that's even better, because then you kind of got them hooked. You have them like invested in what this problem is about, or you know where this problem is going.


Francisco Mahfuz  28:41

You said, you talked about the opening line. And I remembered the what I always think of as an amazing opening line. And I know a lot of people seek to, which is the the opening line of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. 100 Years of Solitude. And it's, it's something like many years later, in front of the firing squad. Lieutenant already I know when the remember the day his father took him to sea ice for the first time.


Eddie Shleyner  29:16

Now he's, yeah, he's in front of the firing squad. And now you got to tell the story of how he got there. So yes,


Francisco Mahfuz  29:21

yes. And it takes about like 100 years and seven generations of the family for you to get there. Yeah. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is an interesting one. He wrote many years before anyone else did, I think, a book back he wrote a whole book backwards. It's called The Chronicles of death for toad. And it's that I think it starts with the with a person dying, and then it just goes back in time. And the book ends at the very beginning of this guy's journey that ended with him dying in front of like, you open the door. The guy's dead in front of you. I think that's how it starts. And then it goes backwards. The whole book is just backwards, backwards, backwards, backwards, backwards,


Eddie Shleyner  30:02

it's kind of like momentum meets, John dies at the end, you ever heard of that book, that's the title actually, it's called John dies at the end. So you know, what's going to happen, you know, the demise of John, the protagonist, I


Francisco Mahfuz  30:15

wanted to just shift a slightly to not completely away from storytelling, but storytelling and how that interacts with, with copy. Because a lot of the stuff we've been talking about is, you know, social media, you use it on the newsletter a lot, I tell stories and all sorts of different scenarios. Now, people love talking about storytelling, and how storytelling is so important, blah, blah. But when it comes to using to inform in the work you do as a copywriter, what is that interaction like, because you obviously don't have the opportunity, in the vast majority of cases to tell even a short story. So how does it influence the, you know, the work you'll spend most of your time doing? Well,


Eddie Shleyner  30:55

you know, when I work in a copywriting capacity, I do write a lot of emails, I write a lot of email sequences. And so I do get to use for the most part, the same, the same techniques that I use in my newsletter, in my, in my articles, I do get to use those in my, in the emails that I write, you know, I do get to start emails with with dialogue. And, you know, if I'm writing to marketers, maybe it's a dialogue between marketers, you know, from writing to salespeople, maybe it's a dialogue between salespeople discussing the problem that this product or this service, ultimately solves. So, I do get to use those techniques in my work as a copywriter a fair bit, I think. But you know, also a lot of advertising, a lot of marketing is slice of life, you know, you show people in a moment that they want to be in, or you show people in a moment that they don't want to be in, you know, if you see any commercials for for medicine, for prescription drugs, or anything like that, you always see, you know, if it's an arthritis drug, you always see happy people running around with their grandkids, doing normal things, typical things, getting ice cream, walking down the beach, you know, cliche things almost. But those are things that we all want to do. Those are things that that's important to all of us, and it's just slice of life marketing, you know, you're telling a story about what this drug can enable you to do. That's how I see it a lot. You know, it's just, hey, a story doesn't have to necessarily have a beginning and a middle and an end. You know, it could be a vignette in a way, it could be just a moment in time. You know, a lot of times I like to, and this is an exercise that I do, but I'll take a Polaroid camera, and I'll take a picture of something, and then I'll try to write that picture, I'll try to express that picture in a certain number of words that I give myself. And it's a great exercise, because a Polaroid picture can't really be contrived, you know, you could take, you could take your iPhone and take 15 pictures of something and pick the best picture. But then it's not really an authentic picture, you know, it's your version of that moment, it's the perfect version, according to you. But if you take a Polaroid, the Polaroid doesn't really give you a chance to contrive it in any way, you know, you're kind of caught, and it is what it is. And so you're forced to kind of write that picture, you're forced to write that expression on that person's face, you're forced to write that moment. And so, you know, as a marketer, as a copywriter, doing things like that, doing exercises like that, where you kind of write the moment, and you try to capture that slice of life, you try to capture that, that instance, is really good exercise, because in some my best works, and my best ads, some of my best emails, that's that's what I'm doing. I'm trying to just capture a moment in time that either people want to be in or people don't want to be in, and then just that's 90% of it, or 80% of it. And the remaining 10 or 20% is talking about the product or the service and how it's going to enable that moment or how it's going to help you avoid that that moment. Does that make sense?


Francisco Mahfuz  33:51

Yeah, no, it does completely I think I've seen you to refer to this moment in time as vignettes. And I completely agree, I think it's one of the one of the skills that anyone trying to learn storytelling needs to learn it, you know, you can't, you can't add it, right. I mean, you can add it to reality to a certain extent, when you storyteller by omission, you can just leave out the stuff that doesn't matter. That's just going to clog up the reader or the listeners cognitive capacities. But you can't, you can retake it. Like you can't do out this to understand this moment in why time didn't turn out. Well, let me retake it. So it fits my it fits my point better, like you could do that. But that would be disingenuous, and you shouldn't do that as a storyteller. But the point where I am not sure it's not that I disagree with you. But I had a very similar conversation about it recently, about having beginning middle and end and I was talking to Ken Adams, who you might have heard of is the guy who created the story spine that a lot of people know is the Pixar pitch. Okay, yeah. So you know, this whole, you know, once upon a time, every day, until one day and because of that cuz of that, and because of that, until finally, and ever since then, so that kind of structure that Pixar uses in pretty much every movie in and I was talking to him about the stuff and he said, No, every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. If the story starts with you and Eddie having a conversation, that is the beginning of the story. Now, that's not the beginning of the interaction between you. And at the end, there's a context there that the reader might not be prior to, up until a certain point where we expect you're going to feel the mean. But he tended to think of it as the beginning and the middle. And the names are not chronological, they don't need to know, the context is not the beginning, the context could be something that happens in the middle of the story. At the end of the story, there's a lot of stories where, you know, something happened, and you don't know what happened. And it's only revealed to you at the end. And his argument was, does have, you know, like in a zero ending example, that's the end, we just chose to keep it to keep it tight or not, not explicit. Now, you have a you have a course, that is about transformational landing pages. Now, is there a place in a transformational landing page for for storytelling? Yeah, I


Eddie Shleyner  36:14

guess, I guess, if you look at a testimonial as a story, you know, then yes, there is I mean, there's all sorts of there's all sorts of places for these micro stories, these these small instances, and to your point, you know, things that are maybe aren't in order, maybe don't have a conventional kind of beginning, middle and end, you know, testimonial is really just the end of the story. You know, they took they took your course, they applied it. And here are the results. So you could I think you could look at it that way, for sure.


Francisco Mahfuz  36:44

The other way that comes to mind is one that was made popular by by Donald Miller and building a story brand, which is, you know, imagining that sort of Hero's Journey plot of any movie of you know, a hero encounters a problem. And then there's a guide, and all that stuff, in their approach is to use that as a way to structure your story. So not necessarily in that order. But you know, there is you put something right at the beginning. So the, you know, the what they call the hero section of your website, right. So this is for the audience to identify themselves with. And the problem needs to be clear straightaway, sometimes in that hero shot. And then as your website or landing page develops, it's like, okay, well, now here, the problem is very clear. Now you show up as the guide, so our course or product or whatever, and then you know, you lead them all the way down to say maybe the testimonial, or the slice of life where they would want to be. So that's really just the other approach that I've seen, that is storytelling as a structure to be used for websites or anything else and not, but not necessarily a story the way most people think of as a story. Yeah.


Eddie Shleyner  37:53

Now there's no shortage of ways to do it. There's no shortage of ways to do it. You know, I think of like, the hero section, for example, I think of it as elemental. So I think of it an elements of, you know, there's a primer, which is just there for, for the sake of clarity, what what is this page about? What is this product about, and then I think of the headline as the promise, this big, bold, beautiful promise that you're making to whoever visited the page. And then I think of the subhead as a future pacing mechanism, and future pacing. And copywriting is really just the way of telling the prospect what their tomorrow or their next week or next month, what what their future is going to look like with your service or your product in their life. And that's a way of, of telling a story to I think, you know, and there's words that can kind of trigger this future pacing piece, you know, if you say something like, imagine, picture this, stop doing XYZ start doing ABC mean, these are all ways to kind of consciously or otherwise, hint to us that this is about the next step in your journey. So, you know, the subhead is, in a way, a little mini story there that you're telling people. It's not it's not very long at all. But it does create a real sometimes if you do it well in people's minds. So


Francisco Mahfuz  39:10

we can talk about a lot as well is creativity. And I wanted to just before, just before we run out of time, to just pick your brain on some ideas for that. And one thing you've said before that I liked, and I think I think I instinctively get this in what I do I get what you're saying there, but I don't think everybody would is when you said that the most personal is the most creative. What did you can you elaborate on that?


Eddie Shleyner  39:37

Well, that's something I heard Bong Joon Ho say at the Oscars when he won best picture for parasite. And he said that he got that from from his mentors. So this is something that's been passed on, I think, over the course of decades or generations. But really, it's just the idea that we're all the same, in a way and we all have different lives. experiences. But what moves us as people is very similar. And we all have, for the most part, similar wants and desires, our heuristics are the same, our brains have the same triggers in them. And so when you tell a personal story, you're actually not being very personal at all, because you're, you're connecting with people through this this commonality that we all have. So that's one piece of it. I think the other piece is, you know, when you say the most personal is the most creative, you know, I don't know, if I would, I would phrase it that way necessarily. That's the way Bong Joon Ho put it. So that's the way I that's the way I talk about it. But Creativity to me is, is more like what Eugene Schwartz, the way Eugene Schwartz talked about, and Eugene Schwartz was a copywriter, an excellent direct marketer, and he talked about it as creativity being this kind of empty word. And a better word for creativity is connectivity. You know, when you put two disparate things together in a flush way, and make them make sense, then you're being creative. And I think that in our personal lives, there's all sorts of opportunities to tell stories about things that are unexpected, or unusual, and you've put them together into this kind of structure, you know, like, the Disney, the Disney structure, the Disney format, or any kind of narrative structure, you take your personal lived experiences, and you apply it to this proven kind of method. And in doing so, you're connecting things, and you're being creative that way. So maybe that's another way of looking at it. But generally, I like to think of it as you know, when you tell a personal story, you're not really telling a personal story, you're telling a universal story, from your own perspective, and people are able to connect to it that way. At least that's what I found in my work, you know, on VGC, I talk about copywriting and creativity through my lens, you know, through the lens, you know, of my muses, which are, you know, my family, my wife, you know, my son, my friends, the things that I've gone through in my life, and I try to connect those things. So these universal concepts around creativity, and copywriting and marketing. And the most amazing thing is that people they write back to me, and they say things to the effect of, I understand this, like, like, I get this. And I feel like when I talk about my wife, or when I talk about my son, people read and they don't see my wife, they don't see my son, they see their spouse, they see their kids. And, and so I think that that's that's another way to look at it. You know, that's another way to look at that blank sheet, bungee and whole quote, is that the most personal is the most creative, because the most personal is really the most universal. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz  42:21

I've heard people describe that as the more specific you are, the more universal you are. And it's an interesting mental exercise we all do, which is if you describe things in a in a generic way, where you're probably having to label people or experiences, we either struggle to see ourselves in those labels, or we just don't want to. So if you say you know, if you're a father, who does the if you have a father with a young kid, and you sometimes struggle with blah, blah, blah, it's a lot less likely that you see yourself in that label, then if I just described my struggles as a father, perhaps because when I put a label out, maybe you feel you have to match it or fit into it perfectly. And you're not trying to understand, okay, how does this apply to me? Now, you're not talking about me, because you're talking about a father of a young girl, you have both both was a little boy, I have young girls. So if I talk about my struggles with my young girls, you're thinking, Okay, how does this apply to me? I have a boy, okay, well, actually, this is pretty much the same problem. So I don't know if it's anything to do with that. But I think when we talk about our own personal experience, we give people permission, and we invite them to think about how this actually matters to them. Whereas if you're trying to nail exactly who they are, through some generic description, when people don't want to be labelled into, it's much harder to make that to make that fit. That's the theory I've just developed right now. It may be so interested.


Eddie Shleyner  43:57

Oh, that's very impressive. Yeah, I think I agree with you. I think I agree with you. Something


Francisco Mahfuz  44:01

you said about creativity as well. And I think it's similar to the way I work with ideas for stories and social media content is I think you said that you collect elements, which Yeah, I mean, again, I know what you mean by that, but how, how does what is that process? And how, how can people use that to find stories or any other type of ideas that they're looking for?


Eddie Shleyner  44:24

Yeah, for sure. Well, yeah, what I mean by that is, like I was saying earlier, is that every micro article is really just a collection of those three things. It's that story, that narrative, that technique, that principle, that concept, or what have you about creativity or copywriting, and then the word count. And so the elements I think, are like that story, those stories and those techniques. And usually, you know, the stories are what I'm collecting. First and foremost, because, you know, I've I've been a copywriter for a long time. I have a modicum of knowledge when it comes to copywriting and marketing and creativity and usually when When I come into a story, or I or you know, something reminds me of a technique, about copywriting about creativity, I make sure to write down whatever it was that reminded me, you know, and then I try to connect those two things. So that's what I mean by elements is like, I look for narratives, I look for those stories to try to tie back to techniques or principles. And I find that, you know, if I have a column of all stories in column A, and a column of all these techniques and, and principles in column B, I can kind of like, mix and match them, if that makes sense. You know, I could say, oh, I could use this story to express this idea about about copywriting. Or I can use this narrative to express this idea about creativity. So that's what I tried to do, it doesn't all just kind of like, sometimes it just kind of like, It all connects automatically. And I just kind of like see it all in my head. And I can write it down right away. But for the most part, it's me, noting these like remarkable things that have happened in my life, and then consciously trying to tie them back to something about, you know, the topics that I that I typically write about in my newsletter. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz  46:08

I completely agree with that. And I think the, the mistake a lot of people make when they think about creativity, is that not only they're thinking about inspiration, but they're thinking of sudden inspiration. And they think that, you know, you sit down when some idea just strikes you. And what does that quote, there's a there's a famous quote about how someone's saying, like, I only write when I'm inspired. Luckily, I'm inspired every morning at 9am When I sit in front of my typewriter or whatever,


Eddie Shleyner  46:35

right, right. It's the mark of a professional writers that you can't are professional, creative person than any any field, you can't just, you can't just rely on inspiration, because it'll, it's not very consistent. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz  46:47

it's a lot more about collecting stories, collecting ideas, and you keep collecting them and people collecting them. And suddenly you go, Oh, that thing I had collected matches perfectly with the story that I thought about, it's never the note, there's nothing in my brain or in my notes, or whatever it is just, I remember a story from two years ago, and this, this is what's gonna express this point perfectly. So that that


Eddie Shleyner  47:12

doesn't happen. I mean, it does happen sometimes. But you can't rely on it. So you have to have a different means of doing it. Like I have a I have a document in my Google Drive, it's called the well, and I just have, you know, probably hundreds of these little kernels, these little, these little ideas that I can always kind of, like, lean on, if I needed to write an article, you know, that day or something. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz  47:33

for sure. And I think even when he happens, you know, suddenly, it happens suddenly, because we fed our brains enough that there is enough stuff going on the background that as soon as the connection is made, it comes to you fully formed, but you needed to have given the building blocks for that to happen. If there are no building blocks in there. It's not your memories, not the building block me can be, but it's a pretty fraught, one, I think you need to more deliberately feed these building blocks and write them down and do all of those things. So that inspiration can finally hit. Now, I think we've now hit the the limit of our time. So just what's the if you want to tell people other than LinkedIn, which is a great place to follow you, but the best place for anyone to see the stuff you're up to? Is it very good copy.com


Eddie Shleyner  48:24

Yep, that's homebase very good copy.com is where I publish all of my content. And that includes articles and interviews with, with folks I admire and, and courses as well. So very good copy that come in.


Francisco Mahfuz  48:40

For anyone who doesn't feel they have any particular interest in copy or even creativity, I would say that the newsletter is still very worth subscribing to because the last time I checked, about 54% of your emails have a story in them. Well, when I did when I did the research, originally, I think I counted, I had gotten 42 emails from you at that point in 23 of them have the story in them. So 54% 54% story two to three male ratio.


Eddie Shleyner  49:16

I appreciate you doing that Francisco and I appreciate this podcast and having me on and, and and meeting you in general. It's really it's really been an honour and a pleasure to talk to you and and and discuss this stuff with you. I've really enjoyed it. So I guess I'm sorry that I that I didn't come on sooner. And that has taken me this long, but I'm happy that I'm I'm happy that I that I'm here now. Perfect.


Francisco Mahfuz  49:38

I've achieved my objective for the hour. Thank you very much. This has been this has been great fun. All right, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Take care of yourselves and until next time



I hope you enjoyed the show. And if you did, I'd love for you to subscribe and leave us a review or rating on the Apple podcasts app. It's very easy. You open the app and find the show. Then scroll down a little and when you see the stars tap, I'd really appreciate it and it does help other people find us. And if you'd like to get in touch or find out more about what I do, reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit my website storypowers.com



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