Monday, September 24, 2007

Why good writers are like Raymond Blanc

Here’s the headline of a car ad I saw the other day:

It turns heads as easily as it turns corners.

I don’t know about you, but I’d expect a car that cost me nearly 25 grand to be pretty good at going round bends. And I hate ads that tell me how good looking the product is, rather than just showing me and letting me make up my own mind. But, for once, let’s consider form separately from content. Let’s see if, without altering the sense, we can improve the headline:

Turns heads as easily as corners.

Easy. But why is the six word version such an improvement on the original nine word headline? Despite what any designer or art director might say, it’s not simply because a shorter headline is always better than a longer one. (Absolutely not true: a 15 word line may encapsulate a thought with perfect economy, while three words can be two – or even three – too many.)

No, the important point illustrated by this rather piffling example is about the way that good writing condenses meaning.

Good chefs reduce their sauces to make them richer and more intense; good writers reduce what they have written – straining off a redundant adjective here, boiling down a paragraph of padding there – until all that is left is the meaty, nutritious essence of what they set out to say.


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