April 28, 2017

Play twister

Four steps to twist of phrase

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
— Jack London, American author and adventurer

Some people are natural-born phrase twisters. The rest of us will likely need some help. Remember: Nobody ever said creative material had to spring from our heads fully formed — most of us have to work at it.

Play twister

Twist and turn You’re just four steps away from a great twist of phrase. Image by Judy van der Velden

Here’s a process for hunting down the muse:

1. Identify your topic word.

What’s the key word in your story?

For a story on Sprint’s new campus, for example, I started with words like “headquarters,” “offices” and “campus.”

2. Find related words.

Create a list of synonyms, antonyms, rhyming words, homophones and other related words. These tools should get you started:

The simpler the word, the better. “Phone,” for instance, will work better than “telephone” — and a whole lot better than “telecommunications.” So look for words of one syllable.

Don’t try to keep these words in your head. It’s easier to play with your words if you get them down on paper or on the screen.

For the Sprint story, I decided to play on the idea that the company’s new campus was its new home.

3. Find familiar phrases to twist.

There are lots of great tools out there to make this easy. Among them:

For the Sprint story, I looked up “home” on Phrase Thesaurus. For the telecom company, one phrase really resonated:

ET, phone home

Play twister.

Take your list of phrases and start substituting words.

Go for something clever, not discombobulating or cute. Give it some time to percolate; your first idea probably won’t be your best.

For the Sprint story, I could have settled on “Phone Home.” Then I remembered the company’s stock exchange symbol: FON, pronounced “phone.” The resulting headline:

FON home
  • Play With Your Words

    Neurologists call it “the pleasure of the text,” the reward readers get from figuring out figurative language. (It can be quite a reward: If your wordplay is funny enough, your readers’ brains even deliver a little dose of dopamine. Nice!)

    That good feeling puts readers in an agreeable mood and may even open their minds to your message. In fact, one study found that ads using rhetorical techniques were 166% more likely to persuade readers and 229% more likely to be remembered than ads that did not.

    The good news is that wordplay doesn’t take talent. It doesn’t take creativity. Instead, it takes techniques, tricks and time.

    At New York creative writing workshopMaster the Art of the Storyteller — a two-day creative writing master class on Sept. 25-26 in New York — you’ll learn how to:

    • Go beyond twist of phrase: Learn to flip phrases; compress details; sub soundalikes; list, rhyme and twist — even coin new words.
    • Find online tools that do most of the work for you: Walk away with links to some of the best (free!) wordplay resources — as well as ideas for how to use them.
    • Polish your skills in our wordplay workout: Get “recipes” for creating 14 types of wordplay, from anagram to etymology to oxymoron. (And yes, that portmanteau does make your butt look smaller.)
    • Get inspired by some of the world’s most creative headlines.
    • Stop writing groaners: Learn techniques that let you come up with surprising lines — and leave the clichés to the hacks.

    Learn more about the Master Class.

    Register for Master the Art of Storytelling Workshop in New York.


    Browse all upcoming Master Classes.

    Would you like to hold an in-house Make Your Copy More Creative workshop? Contact Ann directly.

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