Short Sentences

The Dean bigadminjobs | October 23, 2014

Posted in Blog, Front, Keep

Adam Taylor-Smith

 

 

 

 

 

By @AdamTaylorSmith

 

 

I was listening to a podcast about the copywriter Julian Koenig earlier this week. At one

point, Koenig’s son recalled a piece of advice his father had given to him:

 

“if you don’t find something you want to do and really work at it, you are going to end

up like me – a writer of short sentences.”

 

It’s a shame that he wasn’t particularly proud of his achievements, but it’s funny that

even when he was trying to trivialise his career he came up with a pretty good line.

I’ve chosen to become an art director, but I still love copywriting and I’m trying to

practice the skill of writing ‘short sentences.’ I’m beginning to learn that it’s not so

much about the writing itself as it is about the thought behind it. The best straplines are

not necessarily elaborate, they simply say one true thing well. But condensing hours of

thought and research into one clear insight and then conveying it in just a few words is

no easy task.

 

We’ve heard in many master classes that less is more. Once (if) the elusive moment of

inspiration strikes you have to nurture the idea, removing layers from it until it sits

there in it’s purist form. Marc recently said that at this stage, we should aim to be

writing at least 300 lines before we even consider choosing one for an ad.

I suppose I’ve sort of become fascinated with the idea of saying so much with so little.

Everyone knows a picture speaks a thousand words. Maybe in a way, a clever strapline

should too?

 

Julian Koenig may have been dismissive of his skill, but interestingly Ernest Hemingway

thought there was real value in the ability to write powerful short sentences. He had a

theory that, like the tip of an iceberg poking above the sea as a marker of the vast mass

beneath, the most successful way of communicating the deepest human emotion is

through minimal and unelaborate language. The less you give a reader, the more they

are required to use their imagination. What happens in people’s heads is often far more

potent than anything you could give them on the page.

 

I remembered hearing a story that Hemingway had made a bet with a number of writers

around a dinner table. I don’t know if it’s true, but he supposedly bet them $10 that he

could write a six-word short story that would emotionally move them.

 

He scribbled his six words on a napkin, and won the bet. Funnily enough, the story was

written in the form of an advert:

 

“FOR SALE: BABY SHOES, NEVER WORN.”