“If you are willing to do something that might not work, you’re closer to being an artist.”
—Seth Godin

If You’re Not Writing Persuasively, You’re Not Writing

We writers persuade readers all the time.

We persuade with our narratives, our characters, our metaphors. We persuade when we write our back-cover blurbs, our one-line pitches to agents, our headlines and leaderboard ads. We persuade with every email, every touchpoint, every update on a crowdfunding campaign (I experienced this first-hand during yesterday’s ecstatic #GivingTuesday rush of contributions to ours).

There are no weapons more lethal, no formulas more potent, no roses sweeter, than words. The power of communication is the power of relationships, the power of conflict and resolution, the power of progress, growth, evolution just as it is the power of repression, corruption, and injustice. This is the power that has made us the dominant species on the planet.

This is the power we writers hold in our hands. As with any great power, comes great responsibility. If you are a writer of any kind, respect your power. Above all, be kind to all those restaurants with typos in their menus!

Let’s explore a few different ways to persuade our readers for today’s practice.

Persuasive writing Photo courtesy of B. Rasine

Photo courtesy of B. Rasine

 

Persuade for Love

When you’re on that first date, you’re on your best behavior. You’re just getting to know the person you’re with, and those first impressions are worth at least a few dozen roses. You don’t get into the “Honey, does this dress make me look…” conversation until at least after the wedding.

Love has inspired perhaps the greatest body of words ever composed by humanity. From old Sumeria to Maya Angelou, poets, singers, and awkward first-daters have been singing their pained longings for centuries. Romantic love, of course, is but one kind. Like a rose, love unfolds in a surprising bouquet of petals, each more fragrant than the last.

What is the most evocative love letter you’ve ever written?

Persuade for Influence

If you’re on the market for a job. If you’re employed but working toward that raise or promotion. If you’re famous and would do anything to keep that star status, or not quite yet famous (YouTube, anyone?) and dream of hitting it big. If you’re running for political office, entering literary competitions, defending a dissertation. If you’re lording your parental super-boss status over an unreasonable toddler.

If any of the above applies to you, you’re persuading for influence. You want others to recognize you, credit you, hold you in esteem. Nothing wrong with that, assuming you and your words are playing by the rules.

How do you seize influence?

Persuade for Argument

Here you’re getting your point across. Right or wrong, you have an argument to make. Do you spear your opponent or do you woo him/her with perfumed promises if s/he comes over to your side? Do you take the time to arm yourself with accurate information, or do you prefer to make moebius strips out of scientific fact and sell them as shiny new toys?

Arguments, debates, “intense conversations” if you want to call them that, can be exhilarating, but they can also deflate the ego like little else.  It all depends on the strategic stringing together of words and phrases, and all those intangibles like tone of voice, body language, oh and all those sociocultural innuendos.

How do you make your arguments?

Persuade for Wisdom

Parents of the world, this one’s for you! You know all those words you’ve been throwing at the wall for seemingly no reason, because the kids just won’t listen? Well, we writers do. Your words are great for dialogue for all those children’s, middle grade, and oh, those YA novels.

But they’re also words to be stored deep inside, these and all of the words we come across in our lifetimes, for these are the words that communicate experience, memories, insights, knowledge. When you steep them all in your soul for years, you harvest wisdom (and hopefully you’re not letting those golden words rot like a barrel of spoiled grapes).

Whose words of wisdom do you remember most?

There are plenty more forms of persuasion. Do convince us of your persuasive writing powers in the comments below!

PRACTICE

Choose one of the above four areas of persuasion and write a short practice integrating it into your narrative.  This can be fiction or not, a current WIP or not, and it can take whatever format you like.

When you’re finished, share your practice with the community in the comments section below!

Happy writing!

About Birgitte Rasine

Birgitte Rasine is an author, publisher, and entrepreneur. Her published works include Tsunami: Images of Resilience, The Visionary, The Serpent and the Jaguar, Verse in Arabic, and various short stories including the inspiring The Seventh Crane. She has just finished her first novel for young readers. She also runs LUCITA, a design and communications firm with her own publishing imprint, LUCITA Publishing. You can follow Birgitte on Twitter (@birgitte_rasine), Facebook, Google Plus or Pinterest. Definitely sign up for her entertaining eLetter "The Muse"! Or you can just become blissfully lost in her online ocean, er, web site.

  • Cindy

    “What the hell you doing back
    here boy?” The man wearing overalls with
    no shirt and cowboy boots spit a stream of brown juice out his whiskered mouth,
    which seemed to travel for miles. He
    then ran the back of his hand across his face where some of the foul brown
    liquid remained. His other hand held a shotgun.

    The alley behind the bar was
    dark, but David could see the brown stream had landed just shy of his feet,
    which happened to be ensconced in his latest pair of Italian Ferragamo loafers.
    David felt his gut churn. Normally, this
    would induce a rather heated response from David, but his head felt foggy from
    the alcohol and the unwelcome, sobering phone call he had received while
    sitting in Pete’s Bar about 30 minutes ago.
    And, the fact that the big, fat redneck in front of him held a gun didn’t
    help matters.

    Patience wasn’t the redneck’s
    best virtue obviously, because he lifted the shotgun and pointed it in David’s
    direction. “I asked you a question
    boy! You hard-a-hearin or what?”

    The alley seemed to swim as
    David tried to form an answer to the question.
    Truth be told, he wasn’t sure how he had come to be back in the
    alley. He had meant to leave the bar and
    head home. But the phone call and the voice
    from his past – it had unnerved him. He had
    thought the caller was dead. David
    thought he had finally been free of him and the power he held over his past and
    the threat it presented to his future. He thought he had killed him. The words kept playing in his head like a
    broken record – “I know what you did down in New Orleans Davey boy. We need to talk.” Fear shot through his insides, which felt
    like ice water being injected into his veins.
    That voice, that person, had the power to ruin him.

    The sound of the rifle being cocked by the
    redneck triggered David’s answer as he bent over and threw up the crown and cokes
    of the night all over his Italian Ferragamo loafers. Somewhere in between reality and the fading
    aura of a buzz, David knew he was fucked.

    • Helaine Grenova

      I like your word structure Cindy, but am not quite sure what you are trying to persuade the reader to do/feel. Is the message “alcohol is bad,” or is the message something along the lines of “every action has an equal and opposite reaction?”

      • Cindy

        Thank you Helaine. I understand your confusion with my post. After reading the lesson for the day…I sort of went with the inspiration it gave me to set up a scene in my WIP with one of my antagonists. There is background knowledge that you as the reader would need to know before getting what I was trying to convince you of. Without saying too much…my goal in my WIP is to lead the reader to constantly question who the killer is.

  • Helaine Grenova

    This is an excerpt of my WIP.

    As the man meanders through many of his possible
    futures, he reaches the center of the maze. It is like nothing he expected it
    to be. It is a massive area, larger than a football field, covered with green,
    lush grass. Set into the field at even intervals are numerous rows of large
    stones. A closer look at the stones proves that they are grave markers. Each
    one with his name on it. Each has a brief summary of a life that could have
    happened based on the choices that were made. The stones themselves are as
    unique as the choices leading up to them. One grave shows a sparkling
    demagogue; another tells of a missionary, a crime leader, a teacher, a
    president, a soldier…each stone shows the potential of his possible life. He is
    assassinated, he dies of natural causes, he is killed in action, he got
    cancer…each death was as unique as the choices that led up to it. Some graves
    were well tended and show the love that others would bestow upon him, others,
    little more than rocks showing years of neglect.

    Slowly the man makes his way through the massive
    graveyard looking at each individual stone.
    On these stones the man can see a different aspect of his future – the
    impact that he had on others. In the
    paths of the maze he saw his own actions.
    Now, he sees the results of those actions. Some futures looked good when only looking
    from his perspective, but those same futures now looked shallow and petty in
    comparison to what they could have been.
    Looking at these stones, he suddenly realizes that to be successful he
    must not only look to his own happiness, but also at the happiness of others.

    Finally, the man reaches the last stone. Kneeling and weeping
    before it, he thinks of the life that he had lived before entering the
    maze. It is a bleak, sobering thought,
    and a thought that finally answers his previous questions that he had used to
    scold the maze for showing him sorrow.
    His previous missteps could have been avoided, but his past self had embraced
    them, seeking only a way to wealth and prosperity. His past was now fixed and unchanging, but
    seeing these stones, the man realizes that his future is anything but. He still has time to determine what his
    future shall be.

    • Cindy

      This is great Helaine. You did a great job in portraying his emotions and making the reader feel his walk through the graveyard…physically and emotionally.

      • Helaine Grenova

        Thank you! That took me several days of editing to find the right emotions

    • AB

      Shades of “A Christmas Carol” mixed with “It’s a Wonderful Life”? Blessed is the person who takes stock of life while still young enough to make changes. I really like two of your sentences, “…he suddenly realizes that to be successful he must not only look to his own happiness, but also to the happiness of others.” And, “His past was now fixed and unchanging, but…his future is anything but.”

      • Helaine Grenova

        Thank you AB. I wrote this story to tell people to grab a hold of their life and to persuade them to think of the consequence of all actions.

  • AB

    What Mom said

    Everybody has a favorite momism: something we heard our moms say hundreds of times while we were growing up. “Shut that door; were you born in a barn?” Don’t cross your eyes; do you want your face to freeze like that?” “Because I said so, that’s why.” “You want me to give you something to cry about?”

    My mom had a huge influence on my life. Because of her, I learned to be a hard worker. “First we do our work and then we play.” I am clean and organized. “A place for everything and everything in its place.” I am thankful for the food on my plate. “Remember, there are starving children in Africa.”

    But perhaps Mom’s strongest influence was derived from the
    things she didn’t say. She never said that she thought raising her children was
    more important than the money she could make as a nurse. She just stayed home
    with us, nurturing and teaching us, until we were all in school, and then she went
    back to work. She never said that she spent sleepless nights praying for us and watching us try our fledgling wings as young adults. But we knew that if we ever needed to talk, she was ready to listen. She had our backs.

    Mom didn’t tell me that I should be faithful in prayer and Bible study; she just set the example of a godly woman by getting up early for prayer and devotions nearly every day of her life. She didn’t shove the Bible down our throats; but if you looked in hers it was well-worn and had lots of interesting notes in the margins. She didn’t say in so many words that our purpose on earth was to serve God and others; but she spent most of the hours of her days doing that very thing in as many ways as possible. She fed and clothed those less fortunate. She hosted fellowship dinners, and encouraged
    those of her circle who desperately needed someone to come alongside and help
    them live life.

    Mom was my greatest cheerleader; she believed I could do anything I set my mind to. She encouraged me, commiserated with me, rejoiced and wept with me. Her influence will always be with me. As a mom myself, I pray that my influence will be a positive one in the lives of my children, and that my mother’s legacy of love will thus be passed down to another generation.

    • Helaine Grenova

      Wow AB. That is beautiful. It sounds like you and your mom had a very powerful bond.

      • AB

        Thanks Helaine. I really miss her.

  • Miriam N

    Thanks for this wonderful post Birgette! I’ve found throughout persuasive writing that I am very good at argumentative essays. I’ll have to explore all of these when I have the time. Thanks for this wonderful post!

    • Very welcome Miriam! You might try pitching your work to publications if you haven’t already.

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