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Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

One Blogging Site, One Day, 42 Million Words--and This Was Sunday    One Blogging Site, One Day, 42 Million Words–and This Was A Sunday

According to a wonderful word-nerd site called the Global Language Monitor, there are 999,353 words in the English language. This sheer head-spinning volume all but guarantees I’ll never finish the New York Times Sunday Crossword, though it’s my ignorance of the Hebrew months that usually trips me up there.  This volume of available words also eliminates any excuse for lame copywriting.  With all those adjectives and adverbs, product descriptions should far exceed the shame of tripe like “wholesome goodness,” “family fun.” and “great values.”

Granted, we toil in a largely parity world, and so the vast majority of our work demands we enhance the mundane or magnify the mediocre.  It can be a challenge to elevate this type of writing so too often, lesser talents roll over in the product section, regurgitating the pre-approved, sanitized-for-no-one’s-engagement laundry list of attributes directly from the brief.

But every now and then, some brilliant creative escapes the constraints of these assignments and creates work that soars–even in the traditional wasteland of the product section.  And that merits celebration.

Which is why a few months back, I forwarded this link to the Element 79 creative department.  This is comedian Patton Oswalt’s review of the KFC “Famous Bowl” and while his words decidedly don’t sell the product, his description speaks vividly to the palate and memorably to the imagination–most notably when he summarizes this ill-considered but mystifyingly popular caloric nightmare as “a failure pile in a sadness bowl.”  Choirs of writing angels should herald that phrase alone, and yet Patton goes on to spin a total of 1,121 words into a yarn that simultaneously informs and repels anyone with even trifling respect for their arterial health.

That's DOCTOR Abraham Verghese To You...

That's DOCTOR Abraham Verghese To You...

On a similar if decidedly higher-brow note, I’ve been reading Cutting for Stone on the recommendation of my wife Maureen.  Reading the bookflap description of the author provides a harsh reminder of the standards set by true practitioners of the writing craft.  This is Dr. Abraham Verghese’s third novel that he penned while practicing as a board-certified internal medicine specialist in pulmonary and infectious diseases as part of the Stanford University School of Medicine Faculty.  By way of comparison, I know all the lyrics to Paper Lace’s “The Night Chicago Died.”

Even though I’m not yet a third of the way through this fascinating book, Verghese’s writing has already revealed itself as superlative: filled with astute observations and achingly emotive descriptors.  One that leapt off the page centered around a flight taken by one of his main characters from Yemen to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia aboard a rattletrap DC-3.  Sitting amidst a melting pot of nationalities, she notices “…the mingled scents of the human freight.  The Arabs had the dry, musty smell of a grain cellar, the Asians contributed the ginger and garlic; and from the whites came the odor of a milk-soaked bib.

Wow.  Never before, and perhaps never again, will you read those particular words constructed in that particular way.  A worthy goal for any professional writer.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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basketballhoopstockphotosmallTwo nights a week, a group of guys way past their prime play full court at the local Catholic elementary school gym.  Crowding the lane, slamming in the paint, occasionally committing acts of unlikely grace: it’s basically my version of Fight Club. And yet, two or three times tonight, we found an unusual synch with our offensive passing.   Great ball movement makes any team worth watching; it multiplies possibilities and sets up surprising scoring opportunities.  And it made me, however briefly and inopportunely, reconsider my obsession with push and pull marketing models.  Back and forth, over, around, through, across and back and forth again: the constant movement fascinated and engaged all of us, just the way you hope a symphony of multi-platform communications work for a brand.

Of course, I will still stand by the notion of a Perpetual Motion Experience instead of revising it to the Triangle Offense or something similarly basketball-centric.  Sports analogies don’t translate to every audience, and besides, when it comes to advertising sports analogies, no one can match the halcyon achievement of Bob Merlotti’s guest editorial in the October 22 issue of Adweek.  Genius.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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No Creative Director ever really knows exactly how much positive influence they create within their teams.  Practiced well, the CD’s impact works subtly to the point of imperceptibility, encouraging the personal growth of the individuals in their group.

That said, I strive to leave one lasting, public legacy with every writer under my direction: to shake the habit of writing in passive voice.  If they take nothing else from our time together, I want them to write with strength and vigor…to write with action and passion…to write in active voice.  Many years ago, I learned this lesson at the able hands of Mr.’s Strunk and White in their seminal “The Elements of Style” and to this day, out of respect to my high school English teacher Ms. Betty Bartles, I carry the flag for this small bit of writing hygiene.

Why is that man crying?  Too much passive voice...

Why is that man crying? Too much passive voice...

Why so obsessed over such a small point of grammar?

Because active voice feels muscular and tight where passive voice wanders listlessly.  Active verbs drive engagement while long paragraphs of passive construction creates a sense of distance.  “I write” carries an immediacy that “I am writing” lacks.  Fill a paragraph with ‘is working,’ ‘was saying,’ and ‘had been thinking’ and you can almost watch the reader’s mind untether from your argument and wander off in search of something more engaging.

Passive voice rings particularly egregiously when it appears in scripts.  At it’s lingual root, ‘drama’ means ‘to do,’ not ‘to be doing.’  You don’t ‘are sitting’–you sit.  Or better yet, you plop, you brood, you huddle; good writing uses colorful, choiceful language to paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind of interesting characters doing things.  Active voice makes your images, stories and captions both more powerful and more dramatic.

So please–for the love of God and all that is holy and beautiful and decent–please stamp out passive voice in your work.

Of course, since I’m already on this rant, never, ever, EVER use these phrases in your scripts either:
–We see
–Open on
–Cut to

If you describe visuals, of course we’ll see them, if you begin a story, of course it opens on something, and if your story moves locations, of course you cut to something.  All of these redundant phrases slow down the flow of your script, so excise them, ruthlessly.

Thanks for reading.  And writing.  Hopefully better.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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