Archive for the ‘Power Words’ Category

I recently discovered the excellent Cockeyed Caravan blog. The author, Matt Bird, has been on a journey to discover what makes movies tick and, oh my soul, has he uncovered some great insights. It’s rare I subscribe to anything anymore, even rarer that I go back to the first post and work my way forward in time to sniff out all the insightful goodness that I missed, but that’s what I’m doing. If this were a magazine, I’d be reading it cover to cover.

In the spirit of his excellent series, the Storyteller’s Rulebook, I offer this post (because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery).

Bridesmaids (2011)

Let’s talk about Lazy Writing.

There is a certain movie that has received a lot of hype recently called Bridesmaids. I got to watch this movie because my wife set our DVR to record it without being aware of the hype surrounding it. Then, on one of those rare occasions when our girls had fallen asleep early, we turned it on.

Unfortunately, we didn’t finish it. We got to the part with the wedding shower where the heroine met the usurper and cut it off during the next scene. Every third word was a curse or a not-veiled-at-all sexual reference and that’s not what we expected. It was a major turn off for us which brings me to the topic of lazy writing: Using foul language to fill out dialogue is lazy writing.

Now, cursing can be used effectively. Curse words convey powerful emotions so they can be used in circumstances where this is warranted. During moments of extreme duress or tragic circumstances, for example when discovering the death of a loved one, using strong language can successfully convey that strong emotion. Curse words were invented because humans are capable of feeling powerful emotions and thus need to purge those emotions in some way. This is what writers call catharsis and it is one of the primary reasons we watch movies and read books: to experience an emotion and consequently purge it.

But casual cursing is just stupid. It’s like the writers, actors, and director are trying to emphasize every bit of dialogue. However, the end result is that if everything is being emphasized, then everything has equal emphasis and nothing is really being emphasized over anything else. It’s lazy writing.

Pixar’s feature films don’t incorporate curse words. The entire Harry Potter book series includes just one. (It’s during the end battle when Mrs. Weasley discovers Bellatrix attacking her daughter Ginny.) So if these very successful stories can be successful without using foul language or very judicious use of cursing, then why must stories like Bridesmaids use them? I think such stories are successful not because of their language content but in spite of it.

UPDATE: My wife and I recently watched a very fun romantic comedy called Revenge of the Bridesmaids starring Raven-Symoné and JoAnna Garcia Swisher. It came out in 2010 (one year before the other movie) and it’s a better movie by far. I recommend it.

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Source: Your Brain on Stories | Neuromarketing.

Fabulous insight. The article is about writing stories for advertisements, but the concepts apply even more directly to writing any kind of fiction. This article is definitely worth a read.

That these stories resonated with readers for so long is very telling. In The Narrative in the Neurons, Wray Herbert describes another timeless piece of text, the opening lines of The Tower Treasure, a Hardy Boys novel first published in 1927:

Frank and Joe Hardy clutched the grips of their motorcycles and stared in horror at the oncoming car. It was careening from side to side on the narrow road.

“He’ll hit us! We’d better climb this hillside—and fast!” Frank exclaimed, as the boys brought their motorcycles to a screeching halt and leaped off.

“On the double!” Joe cried out as they started up the steep embankment.

When subjects read this passage and several others in an fMRI machine, researchers were able to observe which parts of their brain were activated as the subjects read different elements. Depending on what was happening in each sentence, quite different brain activation patterns were observed:

For example, a particular area of the brain ramped up when readers were thinking about intent and goal-directed action, but not meaningless motion. Motor neurons flashed when characters were grasping objects, and neurons involved in eye movement activated when characters were navigating their world.

Wray notes,

Readers are far from passive consumers of words and stories. Indeed, it appears that we dynamically activate real-world scripts that help us to comprehend a narrative—and those active scripts in turn enrich the story beyond its mere words and sentences. In this way, reading is much like remembering or imagining a vivid event.

I think the take-away for authors is clear. Write stories as if they are movies, but more than that, write stories as if readers will live out the events they read about – because they will. And if they do not live the lives of our characters, then they have not connected with our books in a meaningful, lasting way.

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Source: Dragon Slaying 101: How to Use Heroic Language to Battle Boring Copy | Copyblogger.

Source: Romance 101: How to Use Feminine Words That Sell | Copyblogger.

The Masculine, Heroic words:

  • Battle / Fight
  • Dragon
  • Enemy / Nemesis
  • Quest
  • Treasure
  • War

The Feminine, Romantic words:

  • Love
  • Heart
  • Secret
  • King, Queen, Prince, Princess, etc.
  • Temptation / Forbidden
  • Cloud, Moon, Stars, etc.
  • Heaven / Paradise
  • Kiss
  • Virgin
  • Magic / Enchanted / Bewitched

View the source posts for explanations. Bottom line: Know your target audience so you can write (and therefore sell) to your strengths.

Four example variations from the author:

Plain: “Solve Email Problems”
Heroic: “Battle Your Email Overload”
Romantic: “Love Your Email Inbox Again”

Plain: “Stop Procrastinating”
Heroic: “Defeat Procrastination”
Romantic: “Kiss Procrastination Goodbye”

Plain: “Advice to Help You Do Better”
Heroic: “Advice to Help You Win”
Romantic: “Advice to Make You a Star”

Plain: “Ditch Your Bad Habits”
Heroic: “Conquer Your Bad Habits”
Romantic: “Make Your Bad Habits Disappear Like Magic”

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