Is your writing all meatloaf and mashed potatoes and no jalapeño and oregano? If so, you may be focusing on format and forgetting about what Ernest Hemingway called vigorous language.
We’ve talked a lot lately about how to structure your writing to make it accessible. While an easily digestible format is a critical part of effective content presentation, you don’t want to leave out the succulent seasoning.
Remember, beyond bullet points, numbered lists and compelling subheadings, it’s still the words themselves that matter most. It’s how you say it that will determine whether your audience sings your praises or heads for the hills, so don’t forget to add some zing to your language.
Here are three techniques that will have you bringing zesty back to your blog in no time.
1. Use Sensuous Language
When I say sensuous, I mean you should appeal to the senses, as opposed to the more erotic connotations associated with the companion word sensual. Sex does sell though, so I’ll leave that to your discretion.
While using visual language is critical, a sure-fire way to plant your ideas firmly in someone’s head is to appeal to all five senses. Through the use of imagery, you’re painting a more complete picture in the reader’s mind, which practically guarantees a higher level of engagement.
The crackling flames danced manically upon the charring husk of the car, illuminating the starless night sky as I stood and watched helplessly. Warm canyon winds pushed the pungent smoke into my face and nostrils, and I tasted my own salty tears at the thought of the laptop in the back seat. All I could think was, how am I going to blog this?
2. Employ High Impact Wording
Too often in our haste to produce content, we become careless with our words and phrases. If how you say it is the key to reader engagement, the first words that come to mind may not be the best words.
- Instead of brave, why not heroic?
- Instead of big, why not gigantic, tremendous or monumental?
- Try rejuvenating, invigorating or exhilarating instead of fresh.
- Go with chuckle, chortle or guffaw just for laughs.
- Why be frank when you can explode the myths about X and Y?
- It’s not new, it’s a glimpse into the future.
Simple words are the rule, but your thesaurus can help you sprinkle potent and distinctive exceptions throughout your writing. High impact words and phrases keep your reader engrossed via vibrant and vigorous language.
3. Be Entertaining
Coming up with an entertaining angle, using interesting language and making knowing references will always be a hit with your readers. Please notice that I didn’t say funny. Funny is hard… any professional humor writer will tell you he writes 10 jokes for every 2-3 keepers. That’s a rough ratio for a busy blogger.
Besides, look at most television commercials. In the quest for funny, most of these advertisements forget that there’s another point—to sell something. You want to make sure you’re not losing sight of your own blogging goals in the quest for a laugh.
The key to an entertaining blog post is to toss in some lightheartedness, especially if your topic is somewhat dry. Tongue-in-cheek references to popular culture or the peculiarities of your industry will help your readers smile and more closely identify with you. Just make sure you’re not being too obscure, or you may leave a sizable chunk of your audience in the dark.
Develop a Distinctive Voice
Over time, you’ll find which techniques work for you. While you’ll always want to keep pushing your boundaries, a writer who is comfortable and confident in her own style naturally ends up an effective writer.
At that point, you’ll be more likely to go with your instincts and not second-guess yourself. If you feel like writing a post that makes corny references to common cooking spices in the opening and close, you’ll just do it.
Well… I could curry on with this sage advice, but I’m short on thyme. And yes, these spice puns are so bad it’s beyond bay leaf, and I’m certainly parsley to blame. Good thing I’m not trying to be funny.
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Reader Comments (54)
Mason Hipp says
Wow, that ending was something (and yes, I laughed).
Excellent post Brian. I think each one of your points is right on target, and I think I need to take all of this advice and apply it to my writing. Marketing can be pretty bland; some spice might just make it a little tastier.
Thanks for the tips, we’ll see how it works out with tomorrow’s post.
Thanks for the thoughts on the long copy format for a sales letter yesterday. As to the advice contained in the spicy post above, it’s something to be used not just in blog posts but in throwing together a free book or two…
Adding spice to your writing is something that you can keep in the forefront of your mind but still screw up – it’s something that needs practice and care. Practice to get the words right, care in terms of editing at least once before hitting that ‘publish’ button.
Jose Negron says
You’ve summed it up perfectly…each one of these points is exactly why I frequent copyblogger on a daily basis 🙂
Spicy Mike says
Writing stuff that peppers the mind is a specialty of the house, it seems.
Doing so, without hot-dogging, is truly a skill worthy of a supreme pizza the pie.
Brian Clark says
Great, now I’m hungry.
Moksh Juneja says
Dont think, that people will actually have the time to write sensuously, untill he would describing his or her experience. Since bloggers are fast, quick in posting. Dont see myself readin very long blogs. The other points are really appreciate and completely understand.
CT Moore says
Why not just Vlog???
Brian Clark says
Moksh, maybe only foolish bloggers are fast and quick in posting. Maybe they should Twitter instead.
CT, why not indeed?
Jerry Freeman says
Thanks for some great tips. I hope more bloggers spice up and sensualize their writing. I tried something, a quick dialog between two people to get across some information. I’m interested in your thoughts. http://jerryfreeman.com/?p=53.
You had me cracking up there at the end Brian. You ever tried doing stand-up comedy?
Ash Haque says
Man that’s a great post 🙂
Personal Development for the Book Smart says
Brian, I applied what you discussed in my latest post. Do give me feedback on how I fared! =D
How you can begin to attract more opportunities into your life
“…the first words that come to mind may not be the best words.”
That is certainly worth repeating. In my experience, the first words usually are not the best words. That, however, is what the editing stage is for.
Going Like Sixty says
I couldn’t believe my eyes. How could someone use touch typing to create such putrid prose? With the clocking ticking in the background, I could taste the bile in my mouth.
Not good, I’ll get back to you.
Your first suggestion advocates the worst kind of “purple prose.” You’re more likely leave your readers nauseated than impressed. Spice isn’t merely adding adjectives.
Your second suggestion advocates wordy hyperbole–the kind that gives marketers a bad name.
This post is a rare miss, Brian. The sad thing is, these tips may work from a conversion standpoint. But this sort of breathless copy ends up polluting the world.
If this comment seems unduly harsh, let me say that one of the reasons I like this blog is its lack of purple, hyperbolic writing.
Brian Clark says
Jeb, the example for the first suggestion is just that… an example. You wouldn’t otherwise try to cram all of that into one paragraph.
Funny thing about humor… the “purple prose” is the joke (read it again), but people laughed at the terrible puns.
And if you think using a thesaurus amounts to hyperbole, well, you haven’t been paying attention to any of my previous posts. I sprinkle high impact words and phrases throughout all of my writing here, and apparently you haven’t minded.
I usually try to answer questions like this on my own, but I could really use an outsider’s eye this time.
I realize that I’m not funny enough to be funny, but I am witty enough to be entertaining. In my blog’s tagline, I write, “Thoughts and humor to help you enjoy work more.”
I feel like it’s already pretty awkward, but now I’m tempted to replace “humor” with “entertainment” and that would be awful. On the other hand, I have a slight suspicion that I occasionally try to be/am actually funny.
Any suggestions for a more nimble tagline that represents my blog well?
Brian Clark says
Chuck, I think you *are* funny, so I wouldn’t sweat it.
Not everyone will think you’re funny, of course. Some people have no sense of humor whatsoever, even if they think they do.
“…and that is how I tricked Brian Clark into writing an endorsement of my blog.”
Kidding of course, and thanks for the kind words. I’m a-okay with some people not thinking I’m funny as long as they aren’t the people that I think are funny.
I appreciate the quick response, and keep up the excellent work on this blog–it’s become my favorite, I think.
Brian Clark says
Haha… happy to endorse your blog. In fact, you are slated for the next Link Karma, if I ever pull that together this week. Who knew link posts were such a hassle? 😉
Thanks. Looking for good tips.
O.K. I need to have more humor.
Start watching TV commercials.
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That’s fantastic news! Looking forward to it.
Valeria Maltoni says
Good one, Brian. Thank you. How you say things carries over nicely off line.
“And if you think using a thesaurus amounts to hyperbole, well, you haven’t been paying attention to any of my previous posts. I sprinkle high impact words and phrases throughout all of my writing here, and apparently you haven’t minded.”
Touche, Brain. I would never advocate against thesaurus use. (In fact, I’m in love with the Visual Thesaurus and I encourage everyone to buy a subscription.) Nor would I equate using fresh words with hyperbole.
I suppose my objections were not to your suggestions but to your examples.
Anyhoo, thanks for the comment comment! Good stuff.
Brian Clark says
Jeb, I can appreciate that objection, because those examples lack context. I actually prefer to provide examples within the context of the post itself (“do it while teaching it”), and there are embedded examples of all three techniques throughout this post.
A lot of people pick up on that. However, other people with different learning styles want clearly-marked examples, so I try to accommodate that need as well.
excellent post. Yes, writing should connect to the heart and make one feel part of it. When one tries to write purely for money it shows in writing quality.
Joanna Young says
The purple prose from “The crackling flames… ” finishing with the perfect anti-climax “how am I going to blog this” is priceless. Are you thinking of entering the next Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest?
Brian Clark says
Joanna, thank you for your comment. I was beginning to fear that no one at all got it.
Josh Buckley says
Excellent post Brian! You’ve given me motivation and new things to try with my blog from that.
I loved the end part of the post, really funny!
Alice Teh says
Hi Brian, thanks for the fabulous post. I like it so much, I decided to flaunt it on my blog. 🙂
Hi Brian, very smart points ! , I would definitely use them!
Daniel Condurachi says
Any exaggeration and mangle of the truth makes that truth a lie. So, if we fallow your advice we shall not provide truths to the world. Like this blogging would loose it’s core characteristic. From communicating truths we will end up making money. It is like taking something beautiful like a flower and spraying it with perfume; this would ruin it
JD Graffam says
Brian, let’s not ignore Jeb’s point that adjectives are not the key to spicing up your writing. Your story was funny because the prose was over the top. It turned on the direct, terse, adjective-free ending. Good writing is about grammar, and to discuss good writing, we need to discuss grammar.
Jeb, I wish you had stood your ground. Adjectives are one of the quickest way to muck up writing. The first three bullets under the “Employ High Impact Wording” heading all refer to using more dramatic adjectives.
I would say a better approach is to cut unnecessary adjectives and focus your energy on the verbs.
The last three bullets in the same section are much more important than the first three: 4) use better verbs, 5) use better verbs and 6) replace adjectives with more descriptive nouns.
Brian Clark says
JD, please refer again to this sentence:
“Simple words are the rule, but your thesaurus can help you sprinkle potent and distinctive exceptions throughout your writing.”
The key word in that sentence is the verb “sprinkle,” as in “use sparingly.” When it comes to adjectives, I like potent rather than “powerful” and distinctive instead of “unique,” at least every once in awhile.
Do you find that quoted sentence offensive to your sensibilities?
Haute Concept says
Great tips and great ending. And yes…I did laugh. Great use of the puns.
JD Graffam says
Brian, I do not find that sentence offensive to my sensibilities. You’re right, when you use adjectives, they darn well better be good ones.
What I’m talking about is cutting out unnecessary adjectives; you’re talking about replacing necessary (but boring) adjectives with better ones.
Carl Coddingon says
Wow! That article was incredible. The ending was so funny I had to tell me wife. (She obviously looked at me like I was strange).
That was a really good post a lot of helpful hints to better content keep up the good work.
If only I could imbibe a speck of how well you write then perhaps, I would soon get readers to my blog. Gasp!
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