As a Copywriter, by definition, I love words. Writing them, listening to them, editing them (and then editing them again!) … you name it. But long before I knew anything about the difference between active and passive voice, or even knew what “copywriting” was at all, I’ve been a reader. Since childhood, reading fiction has been my favorite and most consistent hobby.
Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, anything by John Green, and of course, the Twilight series—these stories defined my middle and high school years. Before then, it was The Magic Treehouse, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and many more that can still be found in my childhood bedroom. There’s just something magical about entering a story that’s entirely new, where anything can happen, but that’s somehow still highly relatable to your own life.
My love of reading is partly what led me to want to be a Copywriter and I think it also makes me stronger at my job. After somewhat of a fiction hiatus in college, I’ve been back on my reading game stronger than ever—obsessively rating every book on Goodreads, following along in my book clubs, and working toward my yearly reading goal. And while I almost always am reading SOMETHING, I’ve definitely noticed a difference in my writing and creativity from when I’m slowly trudging through a reading slump, compared to when I’m deeply immersed in a new (or old) favorite.
Although there’s no definite science that I’ve found (yet!) for how reading fiction makes someone a better Copywriter, there is some evidence that it can enhance the brain’s ability to keep an open mind, increase empathy and compassion, and more.
Regardless, here are a few ways I've found that reading a 300-page fiction book can help me craft the perfect 30-character social copy.
They say that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master of something, and when it comes to my time spent reading fiction, I think I’ve come close. And that means 10,000 hours of engaging with words that were written, edited, and reviewed by professionals—the best of the best when it comes to storytelling. I’m convinced that purely just by spending so much time absorbing professional writing, an avid reader can subconsciously pick up on some best practices that can be applied to their own work.
I have a running list in the notes app on my phone of “good words”—ones that I come across while reading and they strike me as a word I particularly like, usually because they’re fun to say. Recent additions include “Noxious”, “Propensity”, and “Sultry”. Sometimes I’ll have the chance to use these words directly in my writing for brands, but even if not, the process of actively acknowledging them and writing them down has helped me take more notice of authors’ word choices, and therefore be more thoughtful about my own. And as a digital Copywriter, when truly EVERY word counts, it’s helpful to have this list in my back pocket.
Besides just picking up on best practices for word choice and grammar, reading fiction is a master class in effective storytelling. Authors are constructing an entirely new world for readers using words alone—which is exactly what we hope to do as Copywriters. The basics of introducing a setting, highlighting a central tension or pain point, tying in an emotional appeal, and wrapping up with a conclusion are narrative techniques that are central to most fiction novels AND most advertising storyboards.
When reading, I’ll often note specifically how the first chapter sets the scene for the book. Whether it’s starting with a line of strong dialogue, a description of the setting, or an unexpected action scene, I try to incorporate similar strategies into the first few seconds of digital content in hopes of capturing that all-too-brief consumer attention.
As everyone who works in marketing and content creation knows, a huge part of our work is developing a deep understanding of our target audiences. This means going beyond the standard demographics like age and location, and understanding what our audience values and what their pain points are across any given day.
At Helen + Gertrude, we’ll often do brainstorming exercises that center around building target personas and making them as specific as possible. We’ll think about what a certain group watches on TV, how they spend their weekends, what products they’re currently using, how they’d describe their personal style, and more. Essentially, we’re crafting a character that’s technically fictional, yet realistic as possible to someone that’s part of our core demographic.
Fiction novels are excellent at this art of character-building. Unlike movies or TV shows where we’re watching characters on a screen, in books, we can literally hear their thoughts from a first-person perspective. That means we’re introduced to a character who may be written entirely different from ourselves, with life experiences that may not even be possible in our reality, and come to understand and connect with them.
Through reading fiction, I’ve entered the “minds” of characters from nearly every demographic, sometimes throughout different stages of their lives, which is directly helpful when trying to enter the “minds” of a target audience as the first step of a campaign.
The connection between high-fantasy novels and creative inspiration is pretty clear: when you’re reading about dragons, faeries, and magical lands, you’re forced to think outside the confines of reality. That same kind of thinking can directly help in brainstorming sessions (for example, “What if there was a theme park entirely dedicated to our client’s product?” or “How can we make a connection between our product and Taylor Swift?”) and help spur ideas that might otherwise have been lost.
However, I’ve found that even more “realistic” fiction, like some of my favorite romance and thriller novels, can spark creative inspiration. I love the quirky business names and witty banter that’s scattered throughout all of Emily Henry’s novels. Her use of realistic dialogue inspires me to push my own writing to be funny, yet natural-sounding. And the twists and turns throughout some of my recent thriller reads (may I recommend “Wrong Place Wrong Time” or the aptly named “The Writing Retreat”?) are a great demonstration of building suspense and finishing with the Big Reveal that no one saw coming—even if the “reveal” is the name of a brand’s newest product, rather than the killer-at-large.
By regularly entering a world of complete fiction, whether it involves time travel, a mysterious suspect, or a friends-to-lovers romance, I’ve found that it’s easier for my mind to suspend disbelief and engage in the kind of playful creativity that might lead to the next big idea for a client.
Whether you’re a seasoned fiction fanatic or just thinking about bringing the genre into your rotation, I recommend giving it a try and seeing if you notice a boost in your writing. And if you need recommendations for your next read, my Goodreads inbox is always open 😉