Scrivener tip – an alternative to Compose mode

Scrivener has the excellent Compose mode, which I use a lot. The thing is, though, I tend to flit between documents in the Binder quite a lot too – comparing, cutting and pasting, that sort of thing. This means I’m frequently switching in and out of Compose. But I’ve found a handy alternative.

To get a super-clean look without going into Compose, do the following:

  • Use CTRL+CMD+F to expand Scrivener to full-screen.
  • In the View menu select Hide toolbar.
  • Use SHFT+CMD+R to hide the formatting bar.
  • Use CMD+R to hide the ruler.
  • With OPT+CMD+I hide the Inspector.
  • And with OPT+CMD+B hide the Binder.

Viola. This approximates Scrivener’s Compose mode, but I find it’s a little snappier and more convenient to use OPT+CMD+B to reveal the Binder when I need to, rather than dipping in and out of Compose mode when working on shorter documents. And as we already know the team behind Scrivener has already thought of everything, so simply positioning your cursor at either edge of the screen will result in the Binder and Inspector sliding into view when hidden – handy if you want a sneak peek.

You can find my other Scrivener posts here.

For content strategy, new writing or editing, please get in touch; alternatively, you can tweet me to say hi.

Mailshot Munch

I received a mailshot from Volvo, presumably a throwback to a time when we were looking at cars. When I unsubscribed I saw the following message:

I don’t want to receive any email communication from Volvo anymore

This is so poor. Use of “don’t” feels inappropriate, the sentence is clunky, and the two entries of “any” really grate.

Far better would be the succinct and punchy:

I no longer wish to receive email communication from Volvo.

Then in the main body of the mail:

After travelling the world for 12 years, Cologne-born entrepreneur Gundula Cöllen returned to Germany to reconnect with her homeland. We met her to find out how the intuitive features of the XC90 help her make the most of everyday.

The first sentence is fine, the second is awful, clumsy, and use of “everyday” is incorrect (everyday low prices, low prices every day – see?). This paragraph would read much better as:

After travelling the world for 12 years, Cologne-born entrepreneur Gundula Cöllen returned to Germany to reconnect with her homeland. We met Gundula to discover how the XC90’s intuitive features help her make the most of every day.

And further down:

Want to add something extra to your car’s appearance? That’s where exterior styling comes into play. Our designers have reflected the elegant design language of the Volvo S90 and V90 to truly bring out the cars’ unique characteristics.

Again, the first sentence is fine, the second is at best nonsense. Our designers have reflected the elegant design language… Have they? Reflected in what? Where? Furthermore, look up the definition of “language” and appreciate why “design language” is a ridiculous phrase. Unless you’re actually discussing design terminology. Which isn’t the case here.

I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve got the point. Dear Volvo (or anyone else for that matter) consider employing a professional writer to produce this sort of thing. It’s important. You dig?

Tweet me.

Note: this article was originally called Mailshot Massacre, but has been changed due to recent events in London.

GF Newman’s The Corrupted

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been catching up with series three of GF Newman’s The Corrupted, a superlative drama recently broadcast on BBC Radio 4. If you’re looking for an audio equivalent of gritty TV drama to listen to on your commute or when cooking (one of my favourite times to listen), then you should give this a try.

Continuing the story of the Oldman family, this series of The Corrupted is set in 1970s gangland London, all bent coppers, geezers and grasses, stitch-ups, slags and dodgy deals. Including news and celebrities of the day, The Corrupted skilfully merges fact and fiction in an absorbing 10-episode story arc, with superb writing, acting and production. (Episode 1 also includes the most spectacularly performed orgasm I’ve ever heard on radio. I went quite red in the face!)

GF Newman’s The Corrupted is another great example of why I love audio drama. At the time of writing episode 1 is available via BBC iPlayer for another five days, so download and enjoy the series now.

Click here for a blog by GF Newman on the BBC Writersroom website.
Click here to visit GF Newman’s website.
Read my previous audio drama posts.

For consultancy on content strategy, new writing or editing, please get in touch; alternatively, you can tweet me.

Digital Content Strategies – Empathy and Storytelling

This is a follow-up to my previous post regarding the importance of quality, and that SEO is not necessarily the sole contributor to attracting visitors to your site, and particularly retaining them. A key strategy is to stimulate a positive reaction through entertaining, engaging front-end material which encourages custom, revisits and personal recommendations.

Informing, entertaining and converting potential customers in a commercial context is a big ask. And with a deluge of alternative content and FacebookWhatsAppTwitter noise, engaging your readers quickly is challenging.

Hooks. Empathy. Storytelling. These are the tools you’ll need.

While there are well-documented guidelines regarding SEO, the implementation of which can be something of a mechanical process, what represents entertainment is subjective. Material that floats one person’s boat could sink another. Professionals in the entertainment industry command high salaries because after a hard day at the office a box set binge or video game are just rewards for the graft and stress of the workplace. They are also increasingly important given the growth of “cocooning”: with difficult economic conditions, high levels of terrorist threat and so much good TV, why not just stay in, snuggle and munch?

There’s also a lot of force language use in marketing: it’s a push, there’s a target, persuasion and coercion. A gentler approach may well prove more effective given potential customers’ increasingly tech-savvy and marketing-aware nature. This is not limited to younger demographics: older people represent a growing and increasingly important segment given the ageing populations in evidence throughout the world.

To reach visitors at an emotional level a storytelling element in your front-end content is essential. This doesn’t mean you’ll open with once upon a time – the key is to demonstrate empathy with potential customers’ lifestyles and requirements. You can offer solutions because you understand their needs, conveying your marketing message between the lines – the greatest challenge for any writer. The most important attributes required to produce such content are consideration, time and thought – elements so many marketers are unable to utilise, instead adopting a high-pace scattergun approach,  because if you throw enough mud some of it will stick, right? Well, maybe. If you’re lucky. And if mud’s your thing.

For consultancy on digital content strategy, writing or editing, please get in touch, or you can tweet me to say hi.

See below for the decisions used in the writing of the above article.
Read the previous article here: Digital Content strategies: the importance of quality.

The techniques in the text

  1. I had trouble with the first paragraph as there was a lot of information to convey, I needed to mention the previous post, to summarise that post in a formal tone, and wanted a reference to SEO. I opted for “attracting” visitors rather than the more immediately obvious “securing” or “acquiring”, as these two words imply ownership, imprisonment and possession, whereas “attracting” indicates a pleasurable experience and positive choice.
  2. I wasn’t happy with the weight of the first paragraph and the length of the sentences, even though the text did work. I therefore opted to split the first paragraph into two: the message was the same but the feel was lighter. The second paragraph highlights problems and indicates solutions to follow. I later split the final sentence of the second paragraph for emphasis, and merged the following two paragraphs because they flow naturally, and the greater weight builds strength. I’m not keen on the phrase “big ask” – it’s right up there with “my bad” – but it works in this context and conveys the thought in a concise and familiar way.
  3. The three single-word sentences are used to emphasise their importance and to isolate these concepts. The word “storytelling” is italicised to convey three things: a gentle suggestion that storytelling may not be something you’ve considered as relevant to content marketing; the word’s importance; my enthusiasm for it. I might not choose to open with “hooks”, which has quite aggressive connotations, but these words flow well in this order, and boost the importance of “storytelling”.
  4. In the fifth paragraph I chose “influenced” over the more immediately obvious “dictated”, due to the negative connotations of the latter. You probably don’t want to think of Hitler, for example. Similarly, I opted for “the people you’re trying to reach” over a more standard alternative such as “your target market”: again, the latter is perfectly acceptable marketing language, but reaching out is a softer, friendlier concept that implies a helping hand rather than the aiming of a weapon. You’re not intending to shoot your customers, right? Right. I’d also actively avoid “acceptable marketing language” as much as possible – it’s acceptable because it’s used everywhere, by everyone: blah de blah de blah, read it before, same old same old. You want to stand out? Be different.
  5. I like “stay in, snuggle and munch” a lot. It conveys the essence of a justifiably self-indulgent evening under a blanket with someone you love in a few simple words. Dopamine, anyone? “Stay in, snuggle and snack” would give a triple ’s’ sound, but snack just doesn’t come across as cosily as munch, which implies sharing, crumbs and crisps.
  6. When using “box set binge” I was tempted to mention Netflix – “a Netflix box set binge” has a pleasant flow and there’s a double ‘x’, but the simpler “box set binge” packs more punch; indeed, the double ’s’ sound merges “box set” into what is effectively a single word, thereby making the double ‘b’ more effective.

You get the picture.
Click here to get in touch.

Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack

I’ve just finished re-reading Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack. Set in New York at an unspecified date, Random Acts… is the story of 12-year old Lola Hart’s experiences as her family’s situation takes a downturn, against a backdrop of political and economic turmoil.

We see Lola’s development through entries in her diary, which she names Anne. The difficulties faced by anyone of her age are compounded by her family’s changing circumstances and the deterioration of the world she knows. When we join Lola’s story it is her birthday. She is a happy, contented child, with insight into the adult world she will soon begin to join.

February 15

Mama says mine is a night mind. The first time she said that I asked her what she meant and she said ‘Darling you think best in the dark like me.’ I think she’s right. Here I am staying up late tonight so I can write in my new diary. Mama gave it to me for my birthday today. I love to write. Mama and Daddy write but I don’t think they love to write anymore, they just write because they have to.

With money increasingly tight, the family is forced to move to a cheaper, less desirable area of the city. Lola’s middle-class friends abandon her, and her sister Cheryl, whom she nicknames Boob, becomes withdrawn as the stresses take their toll. Her father is forced to take a low-paid, high-pressure job.

As Lola mixes with new people and forges new relationships, her entire life is altered, the transformation she experiences wonderfully conveyed through the language used in her diary. Even the typesetting and punctuation change to reflect Lola’s shifting life. By summer, she has transformed.

July 5

It’s certified that nobody got through the riot glass clear and sure enough I didn’t Anne. While I sat there a cop ran up wearing his mirror glass riot helmet and holding his club. I did nada but that was unmattered as he went by me he swung hitting me upside my head and running on. I didn’t coma but I pitched and minuteslong I lay sidewalked feeling drippy warm and I wondered if I was prepping to cool permanent. I was careless if I did or not.

With its setting wholly relevant to the current political situation, and the pressures facing teenagers throughout the world, Random Acts of Senseless Violence is a tragedy that should be covered in schools. An essential read for writers, too, Random Acts… is a masterclass in character development and emotion between the lines. A wonderful, sad book, the social calamity of which could be just around the corner for us all – and for many is already a reality.

For consultancy on digital content strategy, writing or editing, please get in touch, or you can tweet me to say hi.