August 6, 2009

More than words.

I posted awhile back about Kurt Vonnegut--an absolutely brilliant writer who crafted every page of a novel perfectly before ever moving on. No edits for him, just a carefully constructed rhythm of words that evoked exactly what he wanted to say. And it led you along right through to the end--open mouthed, amazed and wanting more.

Now I'd never say advertising is anything like a phenomenal novel, but I think writing principles are generally the same, no matter the media. Words are meant to evoke, to provoke, to lead and tempt and seduce. The choice of words, their order, their rhythm--even the careful placement of a comma--all these work in tandem to pass a message. To communicate.

And that, after all, is what advertising is all about.

So when I get a copydeck back, either from client services or from client, that's been hacked and twisted and uncarefully rewritten, I sincerely get my knickers in a bind. I'm not sure just how to explain why a two-syllable adjective was needed here, or why the next sentence shouldn't have a comma right there. I just know it. I feel it. It's more than words on the page. It's more than just bullet points on a brief.

It's about lulling the consumer into reading. Making music out of words so that their mind floats from one word to the next like notes. So yes, I make a big deal out of a comma change, out of adding more words to this bit and taking words out here. Don't go playing in my copy--let me know what you need, and let me reconstruct. I've got the rhythm in my head. I'll play with the changes, try them out, move them around. I'll find the fit.

Just, please--leave my dang words alone.


  1. Ray Bradbury and Tolkein also come to mind. And I agree. You write for flow. It moves the reader through, from one point to the next, coaxing them along the path you want to travel. Every word is chosen for a reason. I tend to alliteration when it makes sense. Don't screw it up for me. I've had clients rewrite my stuff and suck all the charm and intention right out of it. So I feel your anguish. I am also starting to think that we are related. We share the same mental DNA.

  2. Ah, so lovely to be understood! ;) I always get the feeling that clients think we're crazy to balk over simple word changes or restructuring. But it's a craft we hone all the time, and it's subtle and difficult to describe. But it's what works.

    Perhaps we do share the same mental DNA! Maybe you're the brother I never had...???

  3. Well, with my father, the globetrotting, womanizing, Air Force pilot with rakishly good looks and uncontrollable libido, anything is possible. (No offense to your mother.)

  4. Maybe it's a symptom of old age (just turned 42 this weekend), but I don't even try to fight it anymore if someone wants to self-sabotage. The exception is with clients with whom I have long-term, trusting relationships that can survive a bit of creative give-n-take.

  5. It's funny you mention that. Although I don't do a whole lot of freelance, the comments I get from freelance clients are easier to swallow and do that the ones I get through the agency. I don't know if it's because freelance clients pay me directly and I feel an obligation to respect their wishes, or if it's because they didn't hire me as an agency, but one person to help them out.

    At the agency, I see my role as protector of the concept, and I'll fight tooth and nail for the message to stay integral. Cause in the end, if we let clients drive an ad into badness, who can we really blame but ourselves if the dang ad doesn't work?

  6. That is a curious dynamic, isn't it? I can only speak from my own experiences, but much of the time it's both factors, wish-respecting and one-person-of-many.

    Ultimately, it comes down to who's left holding the bag. As an agency, you're getting paid to hold it to the bitter end, regardless of the contents. As a freelancer, I just get paid to carry it for a little while. What's sad is that clients don't realize how counterproductive they can be when meddling in the small stuff impacts the functionality of the big stuff.

  7. Just got back from vacation and am catching up..this post struck a nerve with me, too. Clients have the right to be wrong. I hate it, but it's true. I can usually get my way by pre-selling and reminding them what we agreed to achieve before I show it to them. Then their buy-in is easier. But we're small-this doesn't happen in a big firm, right? And when are you having that baby, anyway???? :)

  8. I'm just back from a vacation, too! Definitely needed one of those.

    Whoever pays the bills gets the final say--it just drives me insane. Worse, though, are ridiculous comments from client services that begin "the client won't like..." Grrr.... I just wish everyone would let everyone else do the job they do best. Wouldn't that make for a lovely project!

    And baby is due early October--although by the looks of me it's just about ready to pop out!