I’m making some updates to my copywriting book Simple Story Selling at the moment. A key idea in the book is the plot archetype structure, which you can read about here. The plot structure looks like this:
A key idea to understand is that the plot archetype is fractal, meaning it operates at multiple levels as you zoom in and out.
You can use this five phase pattern across an individual email, Facebook post or blog post. You can even use it within a paragraph, or a sentence even. But in my experience, it works in a deeper and more profound way over a full series rather than an individual communication.
The point of the plot archetype structure is to illustrate character change (sometimes called the ‘character arc’). To illustrate true character change, a character has to feel a call towards a goal or objective. They have to make some initial progress towards that goal, only to realise the true scale of the task at hand. There has to be some monumental struggle, which only can be resolved through a core realisation or character change.
It is the struggle and character change that is endlessly fascinating to us. In watching that process, we are drawn out of our own world, and into another. We learn something about the world or about ourselves, even if the story itself is fictional.
You can fit all five phases into a single email (I’ve included various examples in the appendix of the book), but generally it’s best to stretch the five phases across an entire email series. A full email series simply gives you a greater canvas to work with. An epic story will contain a simple plot, but detailed episodes.
If you want to keep things simple, you could make each email in the series a single plot phase. So email 1 is the call, where you were down on your luck, bored at work, or whatever the call was.
Email 2 could be initial progress. I made initial progress in my business as a Google Ads consultant, before realising that wasn’t the business I wanted to build.
Email 3 could be the struggle. A time when the wheels fell off the bus. A time when your spouse gave you that long sideways glance, which screams “when are you going to get a real job?”
Email 4 could be the realisation. The moment of clarity. The time you went hiking in the Andes (or wherever), and found inspiration from a completely unexpected source.
Email 5 could be the resolution. The happy ending, leading into your offer. The offer at this point is fairly obvious: you invite the reader to join you on the journey. If the reader is at the ‘call’ phase, then your offer will speak to them directly. Chances are they’ll say yes.
I find that unless you want to write very long emails, five emails still doesn’t give you all that much space. As each email should only contain one key thought or idea, I find it easier and more effective to split the five phases across 15 or 20 emails (my own core story series has 18 emails).
A series of that length allows you to include multiple ups and downs… multiple low points you overcame. In an archetypal story the struggle phase (phase 3) is often the longest phase. In Lord of the Rings it goes on forever.
Write about your struggles. Bleed a little. Show people your scars. That is what gets their attention the most, because they recognise their own struggles in yours.
I like the 15-part format because:
– It feels doable. If the groundwork has already been done I can write five emails in half a day. So writing 15 emails means three sessions of 5.
– You have implementation options. You can send an email a day for two weeks. You can send an email every weekday for three weeks. You can send an email every other day for a month. You can split test all of these options.
15 or 20 emails could easily be 10,000 words; long enough for a lead generation book by the time you’ve added in content.
Think also of the reader. I don’t think it is generally sensible to have an email series run for over a month, because at that point a book would be the preferred format. Readers will also become lost, or forget where you started. 30 days should be the maximum window for your email series.
In writing 15 emails, you’ll often find that some emails in your plan actually need to be two emails. Which is why my 15-part series ended up as 18 emails. By splitting a story over two emails you end up with a mini ‘soap opera sequence’.
More on which tomorrow…