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.
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:
- Visual Thesaurus. This thesaurus presents search results as a series of three-dimensional maps of connotative associations.
- OneLook Reverse Dictionary. It’s like a thesaurus on steroids.
- RhymeZone. This is a perfect tool when you want to list, rhyme and twist.
- Homophone lists. Find words that sound like your key words so you can sub a soundalike.
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:
- Phrase Thesaurus. This searchable database of the largest collection of English-language phrases and sayings available on the Web is like an online sound bite generator.
- Internet Movie Database and Amazon’s Hot New Releases. Find movie titles, song lyrics and book titles to twist.
For the Sprint story, I looked up “home” on Phrase Thesaurus. For the telecom company, one phrase really resonated:
ET, phone home
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: