Are you working on your summer appeal or your summer newsletter? I want to help you overcome the tyranny of deadline and the tyranny of the 1 page appeal letter.
You probably COULD make a donor care about the main character in your story in your appeal letter in one page, but… only if you were very very skilled at creating flash fiction of 500 words.
I am going to assume that you are not skilled in flash fiction. I took a workshop last weekend with the Willamette Writers Group on how to write and sell short stories, for fun!
One of the things the teacher told us was the try/fail cycle makes people care about your character. So, your character has to try and fail at something once, twice, and then the third time, get it. That’s the try fail cycle. If you’ve set up your story correctly, your donor will be anxious to hear what happens next to your character, and if they DO get what they want in the end.
Wait a minute I hear you saying.
What is going on here?
We have a SHORT appeal letter to make people care!
It has to fit on one page!
I suggest you let go of that right now. Your appeal letter can be 2-3 pages. That is more than enough room for a try-fail cycle.
Here’s how to make a donor care about the protagonist in your appeal letter story (or your newsletter story).
Here’s an example Try/Fail Cycle.
(Warning, if you haven’t read Harry Potter Book 3, The Prisoner of Azkaban, spoilers ahead!)
If you’ve read The Prisoner of Azkaban, this will make more sense. If you HAVEN’T read the book, I’ll sum up a quick problem cycle from the book.
There are many problem cycles in each J.K. Rowling book, one of the reasons they are SO ADDICTING OMG THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE THEM IN THE HOUSE! Ahem. Ok. I digress.
Buckbeak is a hippogriff. He’s kind of like a cross between a flying horse and an eagle. So, the Hippogriff is a magical creature that is very easily offended. You have to bow to them and treat them with respect, otherwise they will lash out and try to attack you.
In a class at Hogwarts School for Wizardry, Harry, Hermione and Ron are being introduced to the Hippogriff Buckbeak for the first time. Harry overcomes his fear of the animal and gets to ride Buckbeak around the pond. He comes back down and everyone gets to try to get along with different Hippogriffs.
The class troublemaker, Draco (Harry’s nemesis) decides to insult Buckbeak, who promptly strikes him on the arm. Even though Draco is not really hurt, Draco’s father is very angry and takes his complaint to the highest levels to get Buckbeak sentenced and killed.
Here’s one way to make the compelling story sausage. Ready?
So now we have a Problem-
Hagrid, the gameskeeper, wants to keep Buckbeak from being killed. The trio help him research if there is any legal precedent for Hippogriff law to allow Buckbeak to go free.
Try/Fail Cycle 1: Unfortunately, Harry, Hermione, Ron fail to solve the problem (Buckbeak being sentenced.)
Try/Fail Cycle 2: Harry, Hermione, Ron fail to solve problem again (Hagrid loses his appeal. Buckbeak will be killed)
Try/Fail Cycle 3: Harry and Hermione SUCCEED! And solve the problem at the last minute, in a most unexpected way. They break the rules of time and space, and save Buckbeak by bending time.
This is a sample try/fail cycle to show you how to get people to care about a problem being solved, or a character trying to solve a problem in your appeal letter.
You could use this Try/Fail cycle in an appeal letter about the times you’ve failed in appealing environmental policy, or a woman trying and failing to leave her abuser.
Here’s another thing I learned in my story workshop.
If you have a bit more room to tell your nonprofit story (HERE’S HOW TO HOOK’EM)
Consider making a diagram like the one below, and having a series of RISING events that lead to a CLIMAX, and then a series of FALLING events after that.
I created this diagram for the Harry Potter Book 3, which, as you can see, has WAY MORE conflict and problems than the simple one I outlined above.
Here’s a blank one for you to try!
Do you have a story idea now?
I know, I know, you won’t be able to have 10 events in your appeal letter, but what if you could have 2 rising events, the climax, and a falling event?
Will you use this diagram to write your next appeal letter or newsletter story? I’d love to see what you come up with!