Desperate Housewives on Writing, Storytelling, and Selling

by Danny Iny · 67 comments

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This is a guest post by Danny Iny, and since I’m a big fan of references to pop culture on BGB, and drawing parallels between them for your biz, Danny sweet-talked his way into writing for you guys. ;)

No really it’s just a damn good post, no sweet talking required.  Let’s make him feel welcome by starting a bit ‘o conversation shall we?

So many things happen on Wisteria Lane!

Not only are classic storylines of boy meets girl intertwined with conspiracies, secrets, murders and more, but each of the Housewives have their own drama unfolding, so that when one’s secret is revealed, there are still three others left to explore.

And of course, by the time the others have worked themselves out, the first one has a whole new storyline under way!

You may go for a snack during the commercials, or pause the DVR when the phone rings, but you keep coming back – to finish the episode, and to watch the next one – because there’s always something that’s still going on, and you want to know how it turns out.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could generate this sort of loyalty on your blog, or with your audience?

The Magic of Open Loops – from Zeigarnik to Hemingway

What gives a good TV drama or soap opera the power to draw us in like that?

The answer lies with a phenomenon that psychologists call the Zeigarnik Effect, named after Bluma Zeigarnik, the Russian Gestalt theorist. In a nutshell, it is the feeling of mental tension and unbalance that is caused by uncompleted tasks.

It’s part of our mental wiring to want to know “how it ends” – part of our natural curiosity that drives us to ask questions like “why?” and “what next?”

The best storytelling takes advantage of this effect to draw you in. Take, for example, the shortest story ever written, by Ernest Hemingway :

“For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”

The story is only six words long, but it grips us immediately. Why were they never worn? What happened? We imagine possible scenarios, and want to know which one is the true cause.

Open Loops in Your Writing: Stories and Narrative

The operative question, now, is how to make use of the Zeigarnik in our writing and storytelling (and selling, but that’s a bit later).

It’s all great in theory, but flies in the face of another piece of good writing advice, which is to be clear and to the point – the real risk with open loops is that you might just end up with sloppy, rambling text!

The answer is to put the loops in the right places – there are specific spots within a body of text that are natural “stopping points”, and those are the places where you need to have a loop open to make sure that your audience comes back for more.

Here are the most important spots to open a loop in writing and storytelling (using blog posts as an example, but it’s almost exactly the same for most other types of writing), and examples of how I did it with this post:

The headline.

According to Sean D’Souza of Psychotactics, there are three key ingredients to a successful headline. Chief, in my opinion, is that the headline must evoke curiosity. Take the headline of this post: “Desperate Housewives on Writing, Storytelling, and Selling” – if it didn’t make you wonder “Hmmm… what do desperate housewives have to say about writing, storytelling, and selling?” then you wouldn’t be reading this post now.

Before the MORE tag on your blog posts.

When you visit a blog’s homepage, you don’t see the whole post – just the first section, usually. The job of that first section is to get you interested enough to read the rest of the post. This post’s opening section concluded with “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could generate this sort of loyalty on your blog, or with your audience?” – in other words, you don’t yet know how to do it, but if you keep reading you’ll find out. Open loop.

At the end of each section, before the next heading.

This is particularly true with longer blog posts, articles, and books (in which case this would be a new section or chapter). It is an obvious place to stop, because we try to conclude our ideas and trains of thought before moving on to something else. But then, where’s the cliffhanger? The suspense? It is important to tie what you just said into what you’re about to say, to keep people going.

Sub-headers, starting a new section.

This ties back to the last item. When we finish a section, if we’re “on the fence” about continuing, we often read the next heading to see if it grabs us. You have to make sure that it does, by piquing interest, and promising benefits.

At the end of the post.

This is an often-forgotten part, but remember that after reading a post, you want people to take an action. It could be to pick up the phone and call you, or subscribe to your newsletter, or – as is the case with this post – it is to leave a comment. This is my guest debut on Big Girl Branding, and I’m nervous about making a good impression. Will you encourage me by leaving a comment, or will you just leave me sitting at my computer in the dark, nervously tapping “refresh” on the blog and my inbox? ;)

The Zeigarnik effect doesn’t just apply to writing and storytelling, either. It applies to sales – making more of them, and increasing the total dollars that we make from our customers. Here’s how…

More Sales, Too – Housewives Style!

This doesn’t just apply to writing – it also applies to deal management and fulfillment.

The way in which too many people offer services is to close a deal, and then fulfill the deal. Only after the deal is done do some of us have the gall to meekly ask whether there is anything else that we might be able to do for the client.

Instead, while providing the services, we should be keeping our ears open for clues that there is something else that the client might need. We should explore it a bit in conversation. Enough so that we know what they want and how much they want it, and enough for them to consider us as possible choices to provide the service – but not enough to actually try to close the deal. That happens later. For now, just prepare a swipe file of issues that this client might need help with in the future.

When the first mandate is coming to a close, that’s the time to bring up all of the issues that you put in your swipe file. Casually mention them to feel out whether they’re still relevant, and before the mandate is completed (but after the client knows that it will be completed to their satisfaction) – that is the best time to ask them how they would like you to work with them on this new project. While the loop is still open!

So let’s see… I’ve explained how the Zeigarnik effect – as seen on Desperate Housewives and other good TV dramas – applies to writing, storytelling, and selling. So that closes all the loops… except…

Sitting Alone In the Dark…

This is my guest debut here, and I want to hear what you think. Did you like the post? Did it make you think? Did it give you an idea to apply in your work? Please leave me a comment and tell me!

So, if you like this post… comment already! And share it of course. I love that too.  Just don’t leave Danny sittin’ in the dark, please! I’d feel totally guilty.

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{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

Danny March 31, 2011 at 1:19 PM

Hey Cori, thanks so much for having me on the blog!

What does everybody think? I’ll be hitting refresh… ;)

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admin March 31, 2011 at 6:08 PM

You’re welcome Danny! Glad to have you, I loved the post. :)

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Louise aka March 31, 2011 at 5:55 PM

Okay I guess I will be the first. I am interested in your mention of open loops because I’ve come across this same concept in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, which talks about all the open loops that weigh heavily on our subconscious because we are trying to keep track of how many things we want to do. I just hadn’t thought about it in the context of writing. So, you made me make a connection I wouldn’t have otherwise, and this is a good thing!

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admin March 31, 2011 at 6:10 PM

Hey Louise..I found Danny’s mention of that interesting as well, as I hadn’t thought of it in the context of writing either. I know T.V. does it of course, but I hadn’t thought of applying the same principle to a blog post, at least not consciously! lol

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Danny March 31, 2011 at 6:11 PM

Thank you, Louise! And I really like the tag-line on your website – it made me smile! (Not quoting it here, though – to close that loop, readers need to click through to ThoughtsHappen.net!)

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Delena Silverfox April 30, 2011 at 4:25 PM

Hi Danny!

I really loved what you said about offering more *before* the deal is concluded. You’re absolutely right!

When I’m done buying whatever, I now just want to go. I’m done, right? Got what I wanted, and mentally I’m not even in the store anymore, but already geared for the next thing on my list. So when the person behind the counter says, “Is there anything else I can help you with? the answer is no, unless you count getting out of my way so I can go!

Not the mentality we want from our readers, and I don’t like when it’s done to me. Well duh! Why didn’t I think of that before? Get them when they’re still mentally in the store, so to speak. Cater to their wants and needs. Solve their problems, answer their questions. Then they naturally want to hang out longer.

Wow. Didn’t mean to go all out in the comments, but I really like that concept of yours. Thank you! =)

Delena
Delena Silverfox recently posted..epc BelfastMy Profile

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Danny April 30, 2011 at 4:36 PM

Thanks, Delena, I really appreciate your response – you’re right, if we don’t like it ourselves, why should we do it to our readers? :)

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admin May 1, 2011 at 2:49 PM

Oh so can relate Delena. lol That’s exactly how I am when I am out shopping… once I’ve got what I came for, I’m done. Don’t try to keep me or hold me back, just get out the damn way! ;) Definitely not the mentality you want to have with your readers for sure! lol

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Jana Quinn May 29, 2011 at 10:59 AM

Awesome post, Danny. I like how to break down each part of the post into components and apply the “open loop”/Desperate Housewives subplot strategy to each one. We bloggers love to think our creative prowess cannot be restrained by rules and structure, but with business-directed blogging, there are definitely benefits to consistently using these strategies.

The sales tie-in was a nice bonus, too! Thanks for a great post.
Jana Quinn recently posted..Branding Yourself 101 with Glee’s Rachel BerryMy Profile

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Danny May 29, 2011 at 2:40 PM

Hey Jana, thanks so much – I’m thrilled that you liked it! :)

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admin June 8, 2011 at 1:02 PM

Thanks Jana, glad you liked the post as well! :) Danny definitely has a way of breaking things down in an interesting way that makes sense, doesn’t he? :)

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Veronica Cervera August 4, 2011 at 1:19 AM

Hi Danny! This was a very good post – and good writing. Truth be told, this is the first time I heard about the Zeigarnik effect and I’m so glad I stopped by Big Girl’s blog today. This is absolutely what every company should try to apply in their marketing strategies. I think this is why big companies, such as Apple, are so successful. We’re always wondering what’s next. This is absolutely applicable in any business strategy you are planning to put in place. Thanks for this!

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Danny August 5, 2011 at 9:12 AM

Hey Veronica, thanks for stopping by – I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post!

Yes, it’s the company’s ability to draw us in and make us wonder what’s going to happen next that really engages us with their brand and marketing – so we have to learn to do the same! :)

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admin September 15, 2011 at 12:47 PM

Where’s the damn LIKE button when you need it? :)

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admin September 14, 2011 at 1:41 PM

Glad you enjoyed the read Veronica!

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Internet Marketer, London August 29, 2011 at 9:39 PM

An excellent post. The importance of retaining customers on your blog cannot be emphasised enough. The methods you have pointed out can be very effective to ensure readers remain on your site for longer and can reduce bounce rates. This remains one of the biggest challenges for many blogs today.

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admin September 15, 2011 at 2:43 PM

Damn skippy.. my bounce rate used to be about 25%.. these days it’s 40! Mostly b/c I haven’t been as consistent as I’d like due to extenuating circumstances but still.. sucky!

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Steve October 7, 2011 at 7:05 AM

Very creative Danny! I like how you write and it make it easier to understand the concept. However, i just want to emphasize that having a catchy headline is really important. It’s what grabs users attention and generate tons of traffic.
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admin October 13, 2011 at 2:30 PM

True dat. Gotta have good headlines and test frequently.

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Jason Fonceca December 2, 2011 at 10:01 PM

So glad I read this! I love open loops, and was just looking into them further, as I feel they’re an important part of success, which touch on very primal aspects of humanity :)

Danny, you summarized them nicely, and I consider myself wiser on open loops :D Thanks!

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Danny December 4, 2011 at 9:00 AM

Hey Jason, I’m glad I could help! :)

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tagua jewellery December 13, 2011 at 11:15 AM

great blog, you were spot on when you said about offering more |before the deal is concluded. i need to take this on board, thanku

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Kay Elisabet December 14, 2011 at 9:00 AM

Great post, especially as I love Desperate Housewives :) And one of my favourite things about the show, is that they leave certain matters unresolved, creating this ‘zeigarnik effect’ that you speak of – but not too much. I don’t think shows that end with extreme cliffhangers do that well. Desperate Housewives is perfect, because there is always a resolution of the more immediate subjects of the episode at the end of it, leaving you satisfied, but there will be a cliffhanger pertaining to the general storyline.

And I think it’s like that for blogs too, you have to find the balance between satisfying your readers so much that they won’t feel the need to come back, and leaving them with a cliffhanger so immense that they’ll be frustrated.

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admin December 20, 2011 at 1:48 PM

Wow great point of view Kay! Loved how you explained that, and it’s so true! You want your readers to want more obviously, but frustrating them is counter-productive and will only wind up pushing them away. Thanks for dropping by!

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conference gifts December 22, 2011 at 11:42 PM

I really agree with you that the importance of retaining customers on your blog cannot be emphasised enough. The methods you have pointed out can be very effective to ensure readers.

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Seo tips December 24, 2011 at 9:52 AM

Excellent information. Keep it coming. We need good quality content these days, and from what I have read here so far you are right on the money

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julie December 26, 2011 at 10:53 AM

great post, I like the bit about breaking down each part of the post into components and apply the “open loop”/Desperate Housewives subplot strategy to each one.

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linda December 27, 2011 at 6:59 AM

Great post Dany ..you always make the blog interesting by providing with us with interesting topics …retaining customers is really an valid point i agree with you ..thanks for the good share

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admin March 20, 2012 at 12:59 PM

Hey Linda… he does have a knack for it! :)

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custom items January 3, 2012 at 2:52 AM

Nice one Danny! I like how you can create a catchy Desperate house wives headlines and still relate it to the marketing! This one right here is a winner. I think it’s all about the communicating with your readers.

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Manuel Marino January 4, 2012 at 9:10 AM

Cool post! about the Zeigarnik effect, I was thinking that it’s natural to have this impulse to complete unfinished tasks and that it’s also psychological.

I mean that we complete tasks to feel “safe” and satisfied. But in theory we should not be influenced by such things.

I’m a musician and the “tension” that needs to resolve it’s part of music as well.

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admin March 20, 2012 at 1:03 PM

Heh.. right on Manuel! :) Guess that’s why television and media is such a booming industry… the media powers that be have managed to break us down into psychologically trigger happy avatars, and all they have to do is find the right triggers to achieve the goal!

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Matt Kinsella January 11, 2012 at 12:12 PM

Loads of great info, I don’t watch desperate housewives (never seen it) but everything here is important advice and certainly things I try to follow, however I’m not sure how successfully. Thanks for a great article.
Matt Kinsella recently posted..What Do You Want In Life?My Profile

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admin January 12, 2012 at 1:09 AM

Meh. All one can do is try!

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julie January 12, 2012 at 10:00 AM

interesting post, i love the way you have managed to create a catchy Desperate house wives headlines and still be able to managae to relate it to the marketing side of things, being able to communicate wiath your readers is a huge must in this business

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Lily January 18, 2012 at 12:53 PM

I have the most problems with coming up with a headline. I know how important it is and I try, but I think you simply have to be particularly talented to sum up things in such a short form.

And I agree. Desperate Housewives thing works perfectly.
Lily recently posted..Procera AVH ReviewMy Profile

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admin January 27, 2012 at 8:42 AM

Just try as often as you can to lead with a benefit to your reader with your headline, and you should do well enough. :)

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Noel English February 20, 2012 at 9:04 AM

While hat flash fiction from dear old Ernest is a good one I don’t think it would have been a commercial success. :D

Seriously though, I stink at the art of writing and I want to be better at it. I’ll keep this post as a reminder of what I need to do.

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conference gifts February 27, 2012 at 3:19 AM

This is definitely true, specially the Zeigarnik Effect. Even if this isn’t the Housewives we’re talking about, may it be another series or movie you didn’t really had interest you, you’d still find yourself wondering “What’s gonna happen next?” or “How would this end?” – and you’ll find yourself tuned to it until it’s finished.

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Tony February 28, 2012 at 8:13 AM

Hey, Danny! I totally agree with you: the headline should arouse curiosity. If possible, add some hot searches in the title; you can find the trends with Google Insights.

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eddie March 15, 2012 at 11:10 AM

An excellent post. Brilliant ways of keeping clients on your blog, dealing with bounce rates is every bloggers pet hate

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admin March 20, 2012 at 12:22 PM

Heh heh.. exactly so Eddie. :)

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Jake March 18, 2012 at 11:00 PM

Desperate Housewives is a brilliant idea. But not everyone can do this the right way. Therefore, we should just apply it to our ability and our talents to be successful in our own way.

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admin March 20, 2012 at 12:20 PM

Hey Jake.. I think anyone can do just about anything they set their mind’s to, with a bit of work. :)

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Zac March 19, 2012 at 9:47 PM

Danny,

I love the article, and these are amazing ways to draw interest into what you have to say. I will be honeset I had never heard of that hemmingway story before. But it was gripping. I can’t wait to read your third article.

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admin March 20, 2012 at 12:20 PM

Glad you enjoyed Danny’s post Zac!

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Gelgarin March 22, 2012 at 2:16 PM

As someone with a little bit of screen writing experience; I’m already quite a fan of open loops, and agree that this is something that Desperate Housewives did extremely well. Where the show went wrong was in having far more literal content loops, whereby the exact same things happened season after season. “Oh gee, someone new has moved into Wisteria Lane – I wonder if they have a dark secret.”

Providing resolution is almost always better than constant cliff hangers or aborted plot threads, whether you’re talking about screen writing, blogging or any other creative medium. It must be acknowledged though that if you’re project is going to continue after you have resolved your arc, you better have some fresh ideas for what is to come after. Repeating the same process ad infinitum is the fastest way to make people lose interest in whatever you are producing.

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eddie March 26, 2012 at 6:24 PM

brilliant, love your idea of breaking down each part of the post into components and applying the “open loop”/Desperate Housewives subplot strategy to each one.
catchy headline catchy clients!

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Jason April 1, 2012 at 12:09 AM

Im starting to kinda hate desperate housewives, its getting a bit annoying, there was a lot of hype about it a few years ago but now its just the same thing repeated over and over, there is more product placement in that program than a walmart store which is kind of annoying

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Jack Sander April 5, 2012 at 4:58 AM

I like your approach. From my own experience, I can say the package sells more than the actual content. I’ve experimented a little with my blog posts and writing style and I’ve found that readers like to live an intense experience. In our inner egos we all children, therefore we want spectacular and unique experiences.

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admin April 23, 2012 at 9:44 PM

Jack you just might be right. Although I expect the refund rate to be astronomical if the content doesn’t live up to the expectations of the packaging. :)

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Jessica April 12, 2012 at 1:33 AM

It’s interesting to break down each part of the post into components and apply the “open loop”/Desperate Housewives subplot strategy to each one. Clever. I enjoyed reading Danny’s post.

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admin April 23, 2012 at 9:42 PM

Glad you enjoyed. :)

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Elena Anne April 14, 2012 at 10:19 AM

This is a great post. Not only is it very informative about writing a good post I like the way it is related to the desperate housewives!

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admin April 23, 2012 at 9:39 PM

Thanks Elena, glad you enjoyed Danny’s piece. :)

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veronica April 16, 2012 at 1:07 PM

totally agree that the headline should arouse curiosity and be catchy, i read somewhere that people decide after only 2 mins whether they`ll read your post or not

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admin April 23, 2012 at 9:38 PM

Not sure if 2 minutes is accurate… I’d wager more like the first 30 seconds!

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Mark May 1, 2012 at 2:00 PM

Hey Danny this is a mega post with lots of food for thought. The reason I found it so interesting was because I am about to write a new article for my blog and always wanted to engage people to read more, due to your post I now know how! 
So much to take in all at once but having read it through a couple of times I think I can sketch an out line and work from there on my article to try to encompass all you have said. Great job hope to read more from you on here.

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Marie May 3, 2012 at 11:55 AM

Great post! Love your analogy with DHW… Maybe because it’s my favorite show. ;)

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alex May 4, 2012 at 10:40 AM

an interesting breakdown, the biggest challenge is to ensure readers stay on your site for longer and reduce bounce rates. love the way you´ve incorporated the desperate housewives strataegy into this blog by the way, very clever

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Angel Gomes May 20, 2012 at 9:17 AM

Great post. Love the way you’ve based this on Desperate Housewives! The open loops in the header and post are a great way to atract the reader’s attention and keep him or her interested. In the end however, you usually want the reader to take some kind of action, for example buy your product. So I guess you should find some way to convert this attention or interest into an action.

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Kirsten January 5, 2013 at 5:54 PM

Great post – love your use of open loops throughout the article, and the effective guilt trip call to action at the end ;)

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admin January 7, 2013 at 12:58 PM

Lol.. :)

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