Digital and social media have forever influenced the way we transmit information and portray ourselves. However, the written word still rules the Ether as our source for compelling content. Wireless technology likely won’t jeopardize copywriting until cybernetic implants (iPlants) hit the market, enabling humans to share music and text files telepathically. The iPlant’s development has suffered delays since the untimely death of Steve Jobs, but bio-engineers at Apple remain confident that their prototype will flood the market in about three years.
The Internet ain’t for illiterates!
End users, geeks and geezers comprise a diverse global demographic who use the Internet daily. And this vast audience of cynical, savvy readers will drop your landing page like a handful of warm fertilizer if you fail to engage them. After all, we don’t need Ed Lillywhite Norton to tell us when prose stinks (Look it up). With a bit of skill and imagination, most folks can bang out acceptable content. But you do need a method. You can have some of mine. Come, abide with me on this postmodern sojourn to more descriptive copy.
How do you react to this image of a fly?
Yes, of course, it’s a damned housefly. You’ve slain zillions of the nasty little pests with swatters, rolled up newspapers, or washcloths–with anything but your naked hand. Forget about applying a label to this insect. How do you feel when you see this bug up close?
Left Brain Belongs to Spock
By now, your left brain (We’ll call it Mr. Spock) has already dispassionately tried and convicted this insect, arguing successfully for termination with extreme prejudice. Mr. Spock suppresses emotion through a logical approach, and prefers to communicate through highly structured means such as talking and writing. As your left brain, Mr. Spock draws on previously accumulated, organized information to form rational conclusions.
Mr. Spock instructs us that Musca domestica Linnaeus inhabits all climates and continents of planet Earth, enjoys animal feces and rotting garbage, transports disease-causing organisms, and should stop buzzing about the mess hall, barfing digestive fluid all over your pastrami on rye.
Right Brain Belongs to Kirk
Your right brain (We’ll call it Captain Kirk) reacts instinctively, honoring emotion and intuition as a template for responses. “This hideous creature has got to die!” Captain Kirk demands without hesitation, favoring hunches and heart to make sense of things.
Captain Kirk draws conclusions based on seemingly random, unlimited qualitative patterns that group around images. In other words, Kirk behaves spontaneously, combining images, feelings, and uncertain evidence to inform conclusions. Kirk likes open ended answers, and prefers to communicate by drawing and manipulating objects. When your right brain reacts to the fly, Kirk instinctively springs into action. The Captain sees a filthy parasite, seething with harmful bacteria, and realizes it may contaminate the chow. Powerful disgust guides an urgent search of the galley for a swatter, unshaken by the thought of splattered bug guts.
Mr. Spock’s Narrative Content Vs. Captain Kirk’s Visual/Descriptive Style
When it comes to conveying ideas within the formal narrative structure of writing, folks look to Mr. Spock for leadership. Your left brain consciously constructs a reasonable theory, develops supporting ideas through paragraphs and premise statements, then builds corroborating data into this sequence, arriving at a logical closing statement. This method lies at the foundation of all expository writing because it effectively disseminates information. Unfortunately, by itself, formal narrative structure can bore readers to tears.
When it comes to conveying style, you’ve got to bring Captain Kirk aboard to add punch and persuasion to your copy. Your right brain makes sense of narrative structure by adding descriptive flavor and supporting images plumbed from the murky depths of your subconscious, where gods and monsters roam. Think about your last dream or nightmare. Likely you’ll see a little movie in your head, flashes of shape and color, accented with vague, lasting impressions which you can’t quite define. Graphic visual associations fetch powerful symbolic meaning at all levels of our collective conscious. Use them.
1. Stop making sense.
Even before you set quill to parchment, your left brain will have worked up some type of structural framework. While practical and coherent, Mr. Spock’s cut-and-dried framing of narrative sequence often lacks visual and descriptive panache. To complicate matters, a strong analytical focus can frustrate your right brain’s ability to inspire new images and fertile ideas. We’ve all stared at the screen, armed with a strong topic and strategic plan for its deployment, waiting till doomsday for a creative hook to vitalize our copy.
I don’t know how to turn off my left brain, but I’ve learned to force Mr. Spock back in line behind Captain Kirk. When words drip onto the page, writing becomes torture. Once I can no longer stand to suffer for my art, I’ll grab a beer and throw some darts. After profanity subsides, I return to the task, ignoring thesis statements, supporting paragraphs, and data.
Let images take the lead. Pour the right brain juice into making them distinct. Give them color, flavor, smells and sounds. Give Kirk the authority to choose these characteristics spontaneously. Visualize narrative sequence like a short flick, moving among scenes inside your head. Mine your subconscious constantly for picturesque gems, and your right brain will reward you with a more steady flow of creative ideas. Artistic muse doesn’t fall out of the sky. Inspiration haunts the fathomless, electrochemical depths of the right hemisphere. And believe you me, it wants out.
2. Use an online thesaurus.
In olden times, before word processing, writers of ancient literature would thumb through countless pages of this cumbersome resource volume called a thesaurus. Cross-referencing lists for that perfect synonym, homonym or antonym could take up to several minutes. Nowadays through the miracle of digital magic we get ‘er done in seconds.
Place your favorite thesaurus website (Mine is http://thesaurus.com) on your toolbar and run it as an open tab whenever you generate content. If you use a word or term more than a few times, you’ll need synonyms to avoid repetition. Additionally, continually browsing for the right flavor trains gray matter to sift for inventive alternatives. Descriptive writing can feel illusive, but this strategy will help you two become friends.
3. Choose nouns and verbs you can see.
Why use the word “food” when you can say, “pastrami on rye”? The latter has shape, a fresh, warm texture, color, size, salty taste, and a mouth-watering aroma. I’d run over baby bunnies with a steamroller to get at this perfect deli manwich. Never rely on general terms when specific ones embellish stronger setting in your mental movie.
Why use the word “run” when you can say, “rocket”? Try to choose words that function as verb or noun, depending on where you give them context. “Run” conjures up lots of general imagery, but “rocket” calls up a host of distinctive associations we almost always make: heat, orange, red, and yellow flame, speed, conical shapes, fins, the explosion of blasting off, astronauts, space, etc. Remember when Mom used to say, “Use your words, Sweetie”? Well, she’s actually right this time.
4. To be is not meant to be. Swap action verbs in place of this lifeless wimp.
“That which is, is; that which is not, is not.” Seriously, what does this even mean? More importantly, what does it look like? To be wastes space by describing nothing.
How ironic that the most common verb in English suffers from erectile dysfunction. To be can only declare an intransitive state of existence. As a verb, it just sits around like a toothless blob, powerless to add action or emotion to your copy. Couple to be with a neutral pronoun and you’ll get “it is,” a double whammy nothing phrase, unable to appeal to your five senses or conjure pictures and comparisons. Avoid this syntactical slug by retraining your brain to form sentences bereft of to be. Once the habit kicks in, you’ll express a more forceful and lyrical style of copy, free from the dead weight of passive voice.
For example, “It was a good time had by all,” translates into “We had a blast,” once you commit to trading passive voice for verve. Side note: Definite articles (a, an, the) serve an important organizational function in English, but you’ll use them less frequently without to be insisting on their input. It’s a good thing.
You wouldn’t catch Kirk napping at the Conn while Spock saves the universe. Let your Captain energize descriptive style with stronger emotional and visual appeal. Treat to be, and its expendable conjugations, like any Red Shirt. Send them on recon to the nearest outcropping where they’ll face a sticky end in the clutches of a monstrous English 101 composition or philosophy dissertation. Trust me, the crew won’t miss them. Need proof? Go count the Red Shirts in my blog.
5. Don’t chicken out when it comes to using figurative language.
Hyperbole or gross exaggeration adds hilarious imagery and lightens the tone of your content. For example, I’d probably never run over baby bunnies for any reason. Likewise, simile, metaphor, and personification add real pizazz to web copy, especially if you choose symbolism tethered to pop culture icons, like Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Onomatopoeia lends appeal as word choice stimulates a mental sound stage. Why would a fly just fly, when you can make make it buzz? Figurative devices by definition add illustrative language through visual and auditory comparison. Even technical writing, for all its step-by-step, smartypants minutia, fails miserably without effective figurative comparisons. Ask anyone who’s assembled furniture from IKEA.
Web content, with few exceptions, shares information while obeying the will of narrative sequence. However, pale, anemic copy won’t attract hits, likes, or followers. You have to give readers a reason to hang out at your home page. Flash effects, bright colors, and fancy graphics decorating the home page will briefly magnetize short attention spans. In any case, to glue the eyeballs of cynical Internet bookworms to your landing page, you need to weave bells and whistles into a distinctly visual style of copy. Fatten up descriptive expression, and bestow digital prose with some soul while honoring your own imagination. Here in the misty electric haze of the Ether, even grown ups win praise for having one. I’d like to close with an enthusiastic shout out to my personal army of gods and monsters who dared me to believe that one day I would find them all a home.