How to Light the Ticking Time Bomb in Your Copy

February 20, 2012 by Frontline Copy

by John Torre

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” – Elmore Leonard

As a fiction writer, I’m used to the term “ticking time bomb.” It’s that not-so-obvious — or sometimes overtly obvious — facet of a story that gives it immediacy or a sense of urgency. A character may have to get somewhere or do something by a certain time, or perhaps two totally unrelated occurrences are about to coincide with disastrous — or miraculous — results. Really, the number of ticking time bombs in fiction is as limitless as stories themselves.

And, then we have copywriting’s version of the “ticking time bomb,” which is essentially finding a way to instill lightning-fast pacing into your copy in order to kick responses into high gear.

This is something the “A-Listers” of the copywriting world do instinctively. You know the names — Dan Kennedy, Michael Masterson, Gary Bencivenga, and Clayton Makepeace. These guys know that from the moment a prospect’s eyes first spot a headline, a little stopwatch starts ticking in his head — like a ticking time bomb. And, if at any point in reading the copy, the prospect feels it’s not moving along quickly enough, a little bomb goes off in his head and his interest is destroyed.

A-Lister John Caples once said that copy must have all the “power of a runaway locomotive.” Give your prospect just one moment where he’s allowed to think of the 101 other things he could or should be doing — things he’s not doing because he’s reading your copy — and you’ve created a dangerously easy exit strategy for him.

The good news is that as long as you get the fundamentals right, and then move your copy along with great speed and momentum, you’ll gain a significant edge over other writers in the industry, many of whom have never heard of or do not understand this high-level tactic.

So, with that in mind, here are 10 surefire ways to light that ticking time bomb in your copy and keep your reader engaged from headline to close:

  1. Rev Up Your Energy — If you approach copywriting like you do journal entries, it’s going to read like a journal entry. To write great copy takes all your energy. You’ve got to pour your whole body, heart, and mind into it with passion and deep focus. Remember that no amount of exclamation points can ever make up for writing in a low-energy state. So, if you want to write winning packages, do what you need to do to get yourself UP for the process and“bring it” every time you sit down to write.
  2. Start Off With a Bang — A lot of the momentum displayed in your copy will come from the very beginning. Think of it in terms of a good action movie that begins with a crash, an explosion, a shoot-out, or a murder. Similarly with copy, starting out with a blast immediately seizes attention and gets your prospect’s blood flowing. This helps set the tone and pacing of the entire promotion. So make sure your headline, deck copy, and lead carry a strong force that resonates powerfully with the emotions you’re trying to touch within your prospect.
  3. Know Where You’re Going — As we’ve discussed in past posts, it’s crucial to have a clear, logical direction underlying your copy. This begins with getting crystal clear on your sales reasoning before writing. That way, your copy takes the prospect from Point “A” … escorts her to Point “B” … progresses on to Point “C” … and so on until you’ve reached the point where saying “Yes” to your offer makes perfect sense.
  4. Use Colloquial Words and Phrases — Using colloquial words and phrases (i.e., the straw that broke the camel’s back … bring Wall Street to its knees … coming unglued at the seams … it’s hogwash … etc.) increases momentum in several ways. First, they convey much more meaning in far fewer words. Second, they have a strong emotional impact. And third, because we all use and hear lots of expressions like these in day-to-day speech, they make your copy feel far more conversational and lively.
  5. Vary Your Tempo — You can use four major techniques to ensure your copy’s tempo is never flat or dull—two things that are sure to lose your reader. First, mix lots of short, snappy sentences into your paragraphs to help lift the speed of the copy. Second, you should have some one-sentence paragraphs. These are both inviting to the eye and, done in the right places, add more potency to whatever point you’re making. Third, no paragraph should ever be too long. Long paragraphs slow down the copy and intimidate your prospect. Finally, you should have a subhead every 5 to 10 paragraphs maximum. Subheads help keep your prospect focused, and bring a scanner’s eyes down into the text.
  6. Use Bulleted Lists — Bullets are fantastic momentum builders because they’re so easy to read and so packed with benefits and intrigue. We’ll be talking further about bullets in an upcoming post, but for now, know that inserting sections of bullets into your copy will make the reading time seem faster. Be careful not to overuse them, however. Too many bulleted lists will water down their effectiveness and could cause a reader to jump past them or — even worse — put the copy down.
  7. Use Connective Words to Begin Paragraphs — Connective words such as “and … so … plus … in addition … not only … because … there’s more … that’s why … (etc.)” are incredibly powerful because they keep your paragraphs flowing together tightly and continuously. They make your copy feel relentless. Connective words and phrases also give the impression that a new sentence or paragraph is a logical extension of the previous one.
  8. Don’t Write and Edit Simultaneously — Most great writers — including copywriters, and fiction and non-fiction authors — get their first draft down without doing much, if anything, in the way of proofreading and editing. Trying to do both is like trying to push the gas and brake pedals at the same time. Just get clear on your outline or logical points and then let the writing flow uncensored. Then, you should go back to check and tweak it after the fact.
  9. Read It Out Loud — This is advice I constantly give to AWAI members whose online assignments I review from the “Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting.” Reading your copy out loud allows you to check the momentum of each draft and mark the places where you — as a reader — begin to become distracted or bored. Another great “read it out loud” exercise is to have someone else read it out loud to you. This will help you to listen for rough spots that might’ve tripped up or confused the reader, and also give you a good indication of how your copy will sound in your reader’s head. It’s a very powerful exercise to go through.
  10. Make Each Section Progressively Shorter — You can create momentum by making each section of your copy shorter than the one preceding it. Say you want to present your strongest argument first. You could spend 1-1/2 pages making your first point … 1 page making your second … 3/4 of a page making your third … 1/2 page making your fourth … and then wrap up the final six (and less compelling) points in a series of bullets covering a single page. Again, this will make your prospect feel as though she’s moving through each section faster and faster, and that each point is getting easier to read and understand.

I’ll wrap it up here by giving you one more thing to think about: You need to be sensitive to the amount of time it takes to read long copy. This is truer today than it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago — and that includes all types of writing. People just don’t have the time they used to. Keep in mind that a 24-page magalog will typically take someone 45-60 minutes to read all the way through. A copy-intensive 16-page letter or website may take 30-40 minutes.

If you’re putting that much copy out there, first, you need to make sure it’s necessary, and second, you need to use the techniques above to ensure that it reads as quickly as possible.

We’ll leave it at that for this week. Until next time … and as always …

Good health and good writing!
(First published in Wealthy Web Writer on February 9, 2012)

Illustration: digitalart /

This article appears courtesy of American Writers & Artists Inc.’s (AWAI) Wealthy Web Writer, a free newsletter for learning how to effectively write online copy and market products on the Web. For a complimentary subscription, visit

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1 Comment

  1. Chyna

    I think you've just captured the answer pelrectfy

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