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Storytelling tip: Put your writing on a diet

 

Storytelling tip: Put your writing on a diet

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling tip: Put your writing on a dietJust as too many pounds will make you flabby, too many words will make your writing flabby. So, put your writing on a diet. Slim it down. Make it fitter. And, just as taking off extra pounds is good for your health, taking out extra words is good for your writing.

Start with a goal. Losing weight often starts with stepping on a scale and deciding you need to lose (fill in your number) pounds. You can do the same thing to eliminate flab from your writing. Start with your current word count and decide to eliminate (fill in your number) words. If you get to the new number easily, do it again with a lower number. Keep doing it until you can’t take anything else out and still tell the story you want to tell.

One way to trim off extra pounds is to eliminate empty calories that don’t have nutritional value. One way to trim down your writing is to eliminate empty words that don’t add value to your story. Two words I target for possible elimination: “very” and “that.” For example, “happy” usually works as well as “very happy.” If not, try “ecstatic.” Look for the word “that. “Sometimes you need it. Often you don’t. Delete the ones (that) you don’t need.

Eliminate unnecessary modifiers. Redundant pairs, for example: final outcome, past history, future plans.

Become more active. Being more active is a good way to lose weight. Being more active is a good way to improve your writing, too. Eliminate the passive voice (mistakes were made) with active voice (I goofed) whenever possible.

Being fit isn’t just about how many pounds you weigh. It’s also about muscle tone. You can tone up your writing, too. Using shorter sentences makes your writing easier to understand and remember. One way to do that is to look for opportunities to change commas into periods — changing one long sentence into two shorter ones.

Looking for other ways to trim down your writing? Check out this article. And this one.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling tip: What do you say when you run out of things to say?

 

Storytelling tip: What do you say when you run out of things to say?

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling tip: What do you say when you run out of things to say?What do you say when you run out of things to say?

If you do a lot of public communication — writing or speaking — you’ve probably faced this problem, as I have, many times: Your next deadline is here. And you can’t think of anything to say.

When I was a journalist responsible for regularly coming up with new stories to justify my paychecks, I sometimes dreamed that all the stories ever to be told had been told. There weren’t any more. And wouldn’t be. Ever. And I didn’t know what to do about it.

Maybe you haven’t dreamed about it the way I did. But chances are you’ve found yourself with that dilemma: It’s time to say something. But you’ve run out of things to say. Now what? Here are a few suggestions from someone who has faced that abyss more times than I care to remember:

  • Repeat yourself. Go back into the archives of what you’ve already said and recycle some of your old material. Most of the time your audience won’t care — or even know — that you’re doing it. Just because you said something doesn’t mean the rest of us heard you. Or that we remember it even if we did. Repetition is the key to delivering your message effectively. People who study such things say your audience hasn’t really heard your message until you’ve repeated it multiple times. If you’re writing a blog or something else where there’s a public archive of what you’ve said you may want to make some changes in the new version. But if it was worth saying once, it’s probably worth saying again.
  • Look to news headlines for ideas. Stories that are in the news often lend themselves to sidebar stories that add a new angle. Do you have a new angle to a story making news? If so, use stories already making headlines to tell a story that adds the context of what you have to say.
  • Keep a story-idea journal. Some writers keep a notebook with them so they can jot down ideas as they come up with them. If you frequently find yourself struggling to come up with something to write about when you’re on deadline, writing down story ideas as they pop into your head when you’re not on deadline can be useful. Good reporters are always looking for story ideas.  Follow their example. Be open to finding ideas for how to tell your story wherever and whenever you come across them. And write them down when they pop into your head.
  • Put off writing until another time. I’m a big fan of using newsletters and blogs to communicate with your audience. And I often tell clients to wait until they have something worth saying before sending out their next newsletter. Unless you have no choice, don’t send me something just because your (often self-imposed) deadline is here. Send me something when you have something to say that I’ll be interested in.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing tip: Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.

 

Writing tip: Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Writing tip: Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.Sometimes it paid to daydream in class. Because sometimes what your teachers were teaching wasn’t worth learning.

They taught you never to split an infinitive. Never to begin a sentence with “and” or “but.” Never to use contractions. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

I’ve just introduced you to three of the Seven Nevers that appear in Writing with Style by John R. Trimble, Distinguished Teaching Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Texas.

The Seven Nevers are seven rules you learned in school that Trimble suggests — and I agree — are worth ignoring at least some of the time. Here’s the full list:

  • Never begin a sentence with “but” or “and.”
  • Never use contractions.
  • Never refer to the reader as you.
  • Never use the first-person pronoun I.
  • Never end a sentence with a preposition.
  • Never split an infinitive.
  • Never write a paragraph containing only one sentence.

So, if you were daydreaming when your teachers were teaching you to never do those things, you did yourself a favor. Because ignoring these seven nevers will make your writing more readable — and make your story easier to hear, understand and remember.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing tip: Two spaces or one?

 

Writing tip: Two spaces or one?

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

KeyboardWhen I learned to type as a high school freshman, I learned to put two spaces after each period.

I stuck to this practice until this article changed my mind a couple years ago. Since then, I’ve been a one-space-after-periods guy.

When editing, I used to add a second space after each period if the writer didn’t. Now I delete the extra spaces of writers who use them.

Journalist Farhad Manjoo, author of the article that changed my mind about two spaces after periods, blames the practice on the manual typewriter.

“The problem with typewriters,” Manjoo says, “was that they used monospaced type — that is, every character occupied an equal amount of horizontal space. . . . on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read. . . . Because we’ve all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it.”

“Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong,” Manjoo asserts. Until a couple years ago, I argued exactly the opposite.

I’m not ready to call two spaces after a period wrong. But I’ve switched to one. And it’s better.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing tip: Do you use Harvard or Oxford commas?

 

Writing tip: Do you use Harvard or Oxford commas?

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Do you use Harvard or Oxford commas?Commas don’t get always get a lot of respect. And I often urge clients to look for opportunities to turn them into periods.

But before you dismiss these misunderstood and abused little punctuation marks entirely, did you know there are Oxford and Harvard commas? And you almost certainly use one or the other of them when you write. So a little more respect, please.

You’re a Harvard-comma person if you write red, white and blue.

And you’re using Oxford commas if you write red, white, and blue.

The difference, if you didn’t pick up on it, is the choice of whether to skip the comma before the final item in the series (Harvard style) or put one in (Oxford style).

Oxford commas are also called serial commas. As far as I know that has nothing to do with any killer instincts. I hope not, anyway. Harvard commas are also called series commas.

In school, I learned to put that final comma in, Oxford-style — although we didn’t call it that. But in the world of journalism I became a Harvard man. The AP Stylebook says no comma before the final item in a series and most newspapers follow the AP Stylebook.

In fact, I’ve always thought of the difference as being a choice between AP Style and what everyone else does. That’s because most of the stylebooks I’m aware of favor the Oxford or serial comma.

Which one is correct? Which one should you use? It’s your choice. But be consistent. Use one or the other from beginning to end. Don’t switch back and forth.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling Tip: Don’t give up. The beginning is always the hardest.

 

Storytelling Tip: Don’t give up. The beginning is always the hardest.

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling Tip: Don’t give up. The beginning is always the hardest.There’s nothing worse than coming in during the middle of a story. But sometimes that’s a good place to start when you’re putting your story together.

I’m not suggesting you start in the middle of your story when your audience is there to read or listen to it. That’s usually a bad idea.

But getting started is often the hardest part of putting your thoughts onto paper — or a computer screen.

Back in my days as a reporter, I often knew what the story was about. But it could take forever to come up with the right lead.

One way around that: Start by writing the middle of the story — the details of what you have to say. Then come back to the lead when the right one pops into your head. For me, that usually happens while the story is taking shape. But sometimes the lead is the last thing I write.

“Don’t give up. The beginning is always the hardest.” I don’t know who first came up with that quote. But it’s often true when it comes to telling your story. Getting started can be the hardest part.

So, start in the middle — if you need to — when crafting your story. But start at the beginning when the rest of us are there to hear it.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling Tip: Write. Rewrite. Edit. Rinse and Repeat.

 

Storytelling Tip: Write. Rewrite. Edit. Rinse and Repeat.

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling Tip: Write. Rewrite. Edit. Rinse and Repeat.Do you rewrite what you’ve written? And then edit it? And then do some more editing. If not, you’re probably not telling your story as well as you could.

Here’s how Tom Coyne, who teaches creative writing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, put it in an article sent to me by a friend:

“Revision is what separates the pros from the part-timers. Non-writers have some imagination of a writer who sits at a typewriter, crossing out or adding a word every few pages, and finally writing The End and firing up a cigar. That’s a fiction no one will buy. Writers slog through draft after draft after draft after draft . . . being a real writer is more about being a real re-rewriter than anything else.”

Is writing hard? Here’s what Coyne says about that: “Of course it’s hard. It’s pounding your head on a granite countertop hard. It’s a soul-crushing, salvation-stealing, staring-into-the-abyss endeavor rife with rejection, self-loathing and unshakable self-doubt.”

Or, as the late journalist and screenwriter Gene Fowler once put it: “Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until beads of blood form on your forehead.”

Whether you’re writing your story yourself or have hired someone like me to write it for you, expect to go through some editing. Editing is a key part of writing.

And don’t be afraid to ask a professional writer you’ve hired to make changes. Sometimes people are reluctant to do that because they think they’ll hurt my feelings — or the feelings of whoever they’ve hired.

You’re not going to hurt my feelings. The goal is to get to the best version of your story. Editing and rewriting are part of that process. A good writer wants your feedback. If you’ve hired us, our job is to help you tell your story in a way that you’re happy with.

So, whether you do it yourself or hire someone else to write it for you, editing and rewriting are essential to getting to the best version of your story.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling Tip: Use Short sentences

Storytelling Tip: Use Short sentences

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling Tip: Use Short sentencesI love short sentences. You should, too. Why? Because they make your story easier to understand. And easier to remember.

According to the American Press Institute, reader comprehension is 100 percent if your sentences average eight words or fewer.

Double that to 20 words per sentence and comprehension drops to 80 percent.

By the time you get to 30 words a sentence, your audience will miss half of what you say.

So, keep your sentences short. Use short, simple words for the same reason.

And breaking long paragraphs into short ones adds more white space. That, too, makes what you write more readable.

One way to make your sentences shorter: Look for ways to turn commas into periods.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling Tip: More than one way to tell your story

Storytelling Tip: More than one way to tell your story

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling Tip: More than one way to tell your storyThere’s more than one way to tell your story. Which one’s the best? That depends. And it won’t always be the same.

I’ve watched three movies about Iwo Jima over the past couple weeks — two directed by Clint Eastwood and a 1949 movie starring John Wayne. I enjoyed all three. But they were all quite different.

Eastwood’s two movies tell the story of Iwo Jima from the opposing sides. Letters from Iwo Jima tells the story from the Japanese side. Flags of Our Fathers tells the story from the American side and focuses on the men brought back from Iwo Jima to the United States for a heroes’ tour to sell war bonds. The John Wayne movie, The Sands of Iwo Jima, is about a group of Marines sent to Iwo Jima. But the battle of Iwo Jima is almost incidental to that version.

If you’re like many of us, you have more than one audience for your story. And those audiences may have different reasons for being interested in what you do or sell.

That’s why it’s so important to understand your objective and your audience before telling your story. Because the way you tell it will be different depending on differences in who you’re trying to reach and what you want them to do.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling Tip: The missing ingredient

 

Storytelling Tip: The missing ingredient

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling Tip: The missing ingredientA lot of people leave a key ingredient out when they’re telling their story: Preparation.

World-class athletes, actors, musicians and other performers all share one thing in common: They spend many, many hours studying, preparing and practicing before they step in front of the public to perform.

I’ve heard world-class musicians say they feel like they lose their edge if they miss even a day or two of practice. These are people who are among the best in the world at what they do. Are you better than that when it comes to telling your story? Me, neither.

Here are three questions you should always ask yourself as you prepare to tell your story:

  • What’s your objective? What do you want to happen as a result of telling your story? Do you want us to buy something, do something or believe something? What is it? Be specific.
  • Who’s your audience? Unless you corner the market on air so we all have to do business with you to breathe, the answer is not “everyone.” Be specific.
  • What’s your headline? What’s the one thing you want the rest of us to hear, understand and remember? Be able to say it in about 15 seconds or less.

If you’re putting your story into writing, your headline needs to be the focus of what you say. Your headline is what you want us to remember. Everything else is there to add texture and depth.

If you’re delivering your message in front of an audience, even if it’s an audience of one, you also need to practice, practice, practice. Practice until you can deliver your message so it doesn’t sound memorized or rehearsed.

And, of course, editing is also an important ingredient of any good story. What you leave out is as important as what you put in. Be ruthless when editing your material.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.

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