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Advanced Wordsmithing II: 5 Stylistic Ways to Become Memorable

You're out to create a personality, an identity, distinguish yourself from the crowd and communicate with your email readers or website visitors in language that moves them. In language that helps them remember you. Having talked about larger-scale wordsmithing frameworks to shape the direction of your copy, I'm now going to reach into my grab-bag of ideas to help you shape the style of your copy. Because so often, all that is rich and provocative lives in the details.

Show not Tell

Be patient, have faith in your ability to put together a credible reality in your reader’s mind. Instead of saying “This car is the fastest sports car in the market today”, make the reader experience the feeling of maneuvering it… the cold sensation of the door handle, the whoosh of the leather seats when she jumps in, the roaring of the engine when turned on, the tight turns that satisfy, the way she gets “pushed” against the seat every time her foot touches the accelerator, the tremble of the gear stick in her hand as she prepares for the next shift, the way she attends to the sounds of acceleration, listening for that precise moment when the engine will sing, "Now … take me to the next level." See?

Develop a Rhythm

Powerful writing matches its rhythm to the feeling it intends to create. To inspire an excited, fast-moving feeling in your reader, use little punctuation, and impart motion through the use of action verbs and short, rolling words. Now, if you want to convey a relaxed and sleepy feel, a sense of rest or moodiness, lengthen your sentences, use abundant punctuation, descriptives, and pay very close attention to detail.

Your pulse races, hands clenching your ticket as she comes flying into the homestretch. Whispering a prayer, you watch her cross the line. A photo finish. Too close to call. Eternal silence. Bated breath. The announcement crackles in your ear. She lost. By a nose.

How do you feel? Breathing just a bit shallower?

Your fingers finally uncramp and ease their vise grip on damp paper, a palpable weight in your open palm, the embodiment of hope that has become failed dream. You shred precisely, with contempt, then surrender the useless burden, and the tatters flutter like betrayal to the stained concrete at your feet, no longer distinguishable in their promise from crumpled candy wrappers and empty plastic cups.

Now how do you feel? Can you see the palm opening in slow motion, ticket fragments falling like decayed petals? Can you sense the despair?

Punctuate Intentionally

You want to establish a relationship with your readers; you want them to recognize you as an individual, you want them to be able to sense what you are relating to them. Therefore, you must develop, and stick to, a standard system of punctuation that has your own personal signature. For example, use commas for brief pauses in speech, ellipses (…) for longer, but still connected pauses, and periods as separating hard stops. Whatever you do, stay consistent and communicate so the reader knows you are the one talking and knows your intentions.

Let's take the former example and write it this way:

Your pulse races … your hand clenches your ticket … she comes flying into the homestretch. You whisper a prayer … she crosses the line … a photo finish … too close to call … eternal silence … bated breath. The announcement crackles in your ear. She lost by a nose.

Feel different? Time is just as collapsed, but it is presented in a fluid way, a rush rather than as a fragmented, choppy montage. And simply by changing the punctuation (and a few words). Then, the finality of the event is acknowledged and reflected in the last two sentences: two hard stops.

I'd never recommend doing this all over the place - people will lose patience when anything is over-used. But do you see how the identities of these passages differ?

Engage the Senses

To uphold the attention of your readers, use shapes, colors, and names of things to which they can easily relate and create strong, clear mental images. Though distinct to each person, these images do require everyone’s active involvement. Mental images are composed of all senses; therefore words like “sweet”, “bright”, and “smooth” enhance their “visibility”. By strengthening your mental images you’ll haul your listeners to the places you want them to go… like your checkout page!

Say you adore dark chocolate. You go to a website and read this product description:

Premier imported Belgian Dark Chocolate with a characteristic bitter-sweet edge.

Hmmm. Maybe that works for you if you really know your chocolates (and frankly, I'm just making this up as I go - Martian confections are more my thing), but I want to "sample" that chocolate before I tap in my card numbers. I want to experience the color, the smell, the mouth-feel, the lingering after-taste of a dark chocolate. Don't make up flowery nonsense - the copy should be honest - but tell me what I need to read so I know this is the stuff for me! Smooth, full-bodied, with a bite but not bitter, deep color, individually wrapped in gold foil that enhances the anticipation of the richness waiting within. A chocolate to savor. That's what my senses tell me I'm going to get excited about!

Be Specific

Specifics are more believable than generalities, as the chocolate example suggests. And specifics about your products or services are far superior to generalities (or even specifics) about you. Authors of every genre tend to gain your willing suspension of disbelief by means of details. It takes careful attention to describe accurately things you want people to imagine in a certain way. Make each point very clearly; give your readers the respect they deserve as you captivate them by making powerful, relevant, and specific statements about stuff that matters to them - not you - every opportunity you get.

I said it before and I'll say it again: Dare to be memorable. Dare to think outside the boxes and color outside the lines. It isn't exactly a traditional corporate style, but you want to win the hearts and minds of people who are actively involved in a dynamic, interactive medium of communication. And you ain't gonna do that by being lack-luster and boring!


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