Included in my personal pantheon of great copywriters and curmudgeons is the late, great British copywriter George Smith.

In his Tiny Essential of Writing for Fundraising, George offered this observation on the importance of being succinct, relevant and engaging when it comes to storytelling …

“This”, says George, “is the age of Bullshit. We live in a verbally jaded world. We’ve lost our individual voice. Too often it’s as if we’re all reading from a teleprompter. Everyone sounds the same and feels the need to say more than is necessary. Then when the teleprompter stops we simply spray words around at random to fill up spaces.”



Ken Burnett, author of the monumental, new book Story telling can change the world (See The Agitator’s review here) picks up where George left off with an immensely helpful summary in his new book labeled, “Thirty-two more secrets of successful storytelling.”

I’ve selected from among Ken’s 32 secrets the 10 secrets or tips I find most helpful:

  1. “Never stand between your reader and the footlights. Make him or her the hero whenever you can.”
  2. “Tell a story that involves a big idea, as often as you can. Don’t compromise on it.” 
  3. “Read your draft out loud, as if reading it to your mum. Try it in front of a mirror. Be your own sternest critic and don’t relent until you can tell any tale with power and passion that will move people to action. Yes, you have to be an actor.”
  4. “Use logic only to reinforce your emotional anecdotes. Stories are emotions put into words and delivered with evident passion and conviction. Drop the long rational justifications, or package them separately from your stories. Better still, make your rational case so sound and unarguable that your readers will simply accept it as fact, with no need to discuss it.”
  5. Cultivate the virtue and talent of being brief. Even if this means you must kill your babies. Try to cut everything you write in half. A useful question for any storyteller is, so what? What will that word, phrase or paragraph add to what I’m trying to convey?”
  6. “If it’s dull, boring, or ugly cut it out. Most unsolicited promotional communications are tedious. So be rigorous, uncompromising. If it’s boring, bin it. Don’t send unless it’s brilliant.”
  7. “Study the news. Ape the newsreader’s urgently concise reportage. Take your readers there. Give them a role. Make the issue come alive for them.”
  8. “Action, not background. Cut out the organisational detail so you can get quickly to the heart of the story. Provide a solution. Wrap it in need and achievement.”
  9. “Simplicity is sacred. Resist embellishing. As Vonnegut put it, remember that Shakespeare’s most famous line ‘to be or not to be’ has no word longer than three letters. And the opening sentence in the Bible is well within the writing skills of a lively 14-year old: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and earth.’ “


10. “Every writer is a thief, but some are cleverer than others at disguising it. Learn to steal wisely and well.”

Give yourself a personal and professional treat and explore all 32 of Ken’s ‘secrets’. U.S. readers can purchase Story telling can change the world here. And U.K/European Agitators here.




P.S. For inspirational stories that both speak to you and stand as first-rate examples of storytelling you can check out Ken’s choices free at The Online Storybank.

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