The power of vulnerability in your writing
As the son of hard working, Catholic Filipino parents, I had a different understanding of what it meant to be tough. My family wasn’t particularly affectionate, and as a whole, we rarely cried or showed any sort of emotion (Though my brothers will argue that I cried quite a lot.) In hindsight, we didn’t get hugged or kissed as much as a typical family, for better or for worse.
I bring this up because I believe our culture has a way of numbing emotions, shunning those who cry, mistaking pain or suffering for weakness. Because to cry or complain means that you are a weak person, and being weak is simply not acceptable. In some cases, crying can indicate a whining for something they want, but in other cases, crying can mean someone is hurt, or is feeling hurt.
This idea that we must never show people our weakness has ingrained itself not only in our childhood, but stays with us throughout our careers, our relationships, and even our lives.
In my industry, there’s a belief among marketers out there that are similarly afraid to show their weakness. We are taught as writers to take an authoritative approach to crafting copy. The idea is-write words that are stern and authoritative, which will convey a sense of knowledge and expertise about their particular subject. After all, are you going to be more interested in the guy who speaks about a topic with confidence, or the guy that says “well, it’s pretty good, but we’re still figuring it out.”
And it makes sense. There’s real, quantitative science out there that supports the theory that people in general tend to listen to the more authoritative and trustworthy voice. And trust, as most of us know, equals confidence. And confidence leads to sales, (or whatever it is you are selling to your reader).
However, while that approach may work, I would argue that times have changed and there are alternative methods to frame your message. An approach that throws away some of the old preconceptions about writing, and takes a more human approach.
Showcasing your vulnerability.
To be clear right up front-vulnerability does not equate to weakness. My real life superhero and actual spirit animal, Brene Brown, is an expert on this topic. She argues that we have a natural, human instinct to cover up our weaknesses and shortcomings, but there’s a problem when we do that. By masking our vulnerabilities, shielding ourselves from pain, it can lead to destructive behaviors, including but not limited to addiction.
In the writing world-I believe the same rules apply. By masking your shortcomings or obvious flaws, your message can come across as fake, insincere, and even dishonest to your audience.
One of my favorite ad campaigns ever was from Avis Rent a Car.
“We’re Number 2”
Who in their right mind would advertise themselves as number 2?
And it worked. People may argue all sorts of reasons as to why that campaign worked, including a stronger message of we try harder, which is a slogan they continue to use effectively to this day. However, I believe the core reason as to why that campaign made such a lasting impression is because it did the one thing that I believe makes for great advertising:
It revealed their human side.
As great as we all try to make ourselves out to be, we are, at the same time, inherently flawed. We all make mistakes, have flaws, and have our shortcomings. And Avis is no different, and that’s what made their message resonate with their customers.
Novel writers already know this. Flawed characters make the best stories. After all, who wants to hear a story about the perfect person? We yearn to connect with someone like us, and people that are like us aren’t perfect. I wonder why and how so many of us in advertising and copywriting forgot that?
So I say instead of trying to mask those flaws, do as the great and magnificent Brene Brown would do: Shine a light on them.
Don’t be afraid. Expose your weaknesses, and you just might find that your audience may not only relate, but learn something about you, and vice versa. And in that process, perhaps everyone can learn something from it.
After all, we’re all only human.