Formula and the “Zing” Thing

What do these movies have in common?

The Wizard of OzBack To The FutureHome Alone?

Give up? Well, here it is…


They’re all the same story!

True. In fact, the first two are identical:

A kid who’s cheesed off at home gets whisked off to another world…makes new friends and squares up to a baddie…has to nail a tricky task before they can go back…almost loses their ride home…but they make it back, and now family life is awesome.

Get my drift? Same story.

And Home Alone? Same in reverse. He’s stuck at home battling the odds, while his family try to get back.

Yep. A good formula can churn out hit after hit.

This one pops up all the time. Lovers of classics will know it from Homer’s Odyssey. Panto fans know it from Jack and The Beanstalk. Disneyites know it from Bolt.

It just keeps on working.

And formula’s not just for movies. It’s a must in copy, too.




And more. They’re proven paradigms. Frameworks, that will shape your message and turn it into gold.

Um, hang on, though. Don’t get too excited.

Because (whisper it quietly)…they don’t work every time.

You’ll never hear this from the gurus flogging their latest “Ninja Copy Blueprint” at £1200 a pop. But it’s true.

Whatever you’re writing – FORMULA CAN FLOP!

Screenwriting legend William Goldman, who passed away last week, upset Hollywood in the 80s when he pointed this out. He said, “Nobody Knows Anything” – because something that works on paper can still bomb when it hits the screen.

And he was right.

In movies, in copy…in all writing…formula will get you so far, but it won’t get you over the line.

Because…beyond the formula, there’s something indefinable. A raw, instinctive appeal that you can’t manufacture with a “writing by numbers” playbook.

It’s a special “zing”.

And every time you sit down to write, you have to find it all over again.

I’d like to say you can learn it. But you can’t.

You can’t teach “zing”.

You can only live it. And breathe it. By writing with a fervour that yells out from the page, and sparks a deep connection with the reader.

Write like that, and your words will overshadow the formula.

You will get your zing.

But go through the motions, and all you get is formulaic pap.

If you’re thinking of shelling out for some overpriced copy programme…or (eurgh!) a bit of software that “writes” your copy for you…remember that, yeah?

Formula is powerful. But it’s not enough.

Your zing…your human connection through language…will make the final difference.

Meet the Author

James Daniel

You might not know who James is...but you've probably read his copy. Through high street clients like Hidden Hearing, or big gun marketers like Jonathan Jay and Chris Cardell. His words are out there, pulling in new business every month. What else? Well his books, Do You Talk Like That at Home? and Direct Mail 101 will help you squeeze out more sales. Oh yeah - and his next book Before You JFDI will help you plan your next campaign. Get on the list for a free advance copy here.

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