October 17, 2017

This list is made for twisting

Wordplay techniques to steal from ‘Kinky Boots’

“Ladies and gentlemen … and those who have yet to make up your minds.”
— Billy Porter as Lola in Harvey Fierstein’s ‘Kinky Boots’

Here’s a quick humor technique: Twist a list.

TWIST THIS! What techniques can you steal from 'Kinky Boots' to make your copy more creative?

TWIST THIS! What techniques can you steal from ‘Kinky Boots’ to make your copy more creative?

That is:

1) Start with a series of two or more items that go together. (“Ladies and gentlemen …”)

2) Then add a funny final item that’s not like the others. (“… and those who have yet to make up your minds.”)

That’s just one technique you can see in action in Harvey Fierstein’s “Kinky Boots.” This Tony Award-winning Broadway musical tells the story of Charlie Price, who tries to save his family’s shoe factory by producing footware for transvestites.

Here are three more techniques to steal from “Kinky Boots” — both the Broadway musical and the original movie:

1. Find balance.

Balance uses parallel construction. The echo of one phrase in a similar phrase creates a passage that sounds satisfying and complete to the ear.

“Parallel constructions help authors and orators make meaning memorable,” writes The Poynter Institute’s Roy Peter Clark. “Think of equal terms to express equal ideas.”

Here’s how it works, in another Lola line:

“It’s a simple equation. A drag queen puts on a frock, looks like Kylie. A transvestite puts on a frock, looks like Boris Yeltsin in lipstick.”

And another, from Lola:

“Red is the colour of sex. Burgundy is the colour of hot water bottles.”

Balance also works in this comeback from Lola:

“How much do you weigh?” Charlie asks Lola.

“The right amount,” she replies. “How much do you drink?”

Charlie also uses balance in this line:

“I see this as a very positive step for a company that spent the last century making a range of shoes for men to start the next century making shoes for a range of men.”

2. Condense the mission statement.

When Charlie returns to the shoe factory after his father dies, employees gather ’round to hear what the new CEO has to say. With no speech in hand (nor plans to make a speech), he blurts out:

“So let’s make shoes.”

The employees are underwhelmed. But as mission statements go, that’s not a bad one.

As with so much in life, less in a mission statement is actually more. Short credos stick in people’s minds. Long ones just fade away.

3. It’s all about the audience.

When Charlie tries to interest Lola in his scheme to save the shoe factory, he starts with his own sob story:

“Look, I’m standing here, trying to save a factory of four generations. Of my father, and his father’s father …”

Lola replies:

“Tell me when this applies to me.”

If you want to move people to act, focus on the audience’s needs, not your own.

Learn more.

What else can you learn from “Kinky Boots”? Check out the movie script and Broadway lyrics.

  • 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 Portland creative writing workshopMaster the Art of the Storyteller — a two-day creative writing master class on July 25-26, 2018 in Portland — 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 Portland

    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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