Posted January 7, 2011on:
This is a continuation of my Nov. 29th posting, Emphasis! In that posting, I was wondering about the role the exclamation point plays in the promotional writing I do here at On Co-op. After a month of musing, I have a few new thoughts on the matter. (Alert: This is another one of my writerly postings; if you’re not interested weird things like narrative voice and em dashes, you may want to move on.)
I come from a creative writing background, and as such I tend to look at things through that lens. The frequent use of the exclamation point in my promotional writing struck me as odd because I’m not used to using it in my fiction–that is, outside of dialogue.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that promotional writing is in some ways more akin to dialogue than narration. It’s often formal, but it also tries to be open and approachable. Through tone it attempts to establish a relationship with the reader, ideally with the promotional text becoming a trusted source of information–hence much of what I write is very friendly, slightly casual, because friends are often the most trusted source of information. (I think brochures that can buy you a coffee are the advertising wave of the future.) Exclamation points mark and increase in the volume of words, and since volume frequently changes in our everyday speech, it makes sense to find them in dialogue.
But not all of the promotional writing I do is part of a dialogue; often, it’s more of a monologue, with the text speaking to someone without expecting a response. In that way, this writing moves back into the realm of narration. And even at my most conversational in narration, I tend to avoid strong punctuation, because it often seeks to pre-determine the reaction of the audience. (“Get excited now!” said the exclamation mark.) In fiction, I’ve found that readers respond best when I give them room to form their own response. I want that response to be positive, of course, but dictating feelings too directly to an audience can be considered bad form.
So, I see three possibilities suggested here. One is that I could try promotional writing that attempts to follow that narrative approach, informing and influencing through tone, but not pushing too hard. The second is that I could try promotional writing that really does try to be dialogue–social media makes this a possibility, as most of its best corporate users advocate truly social initiatives, with conversation opened between company and consumer. The third possibility is that promotional writing is a horse of a different colour, and I need to figure out new modes and new styles rather than relying too heavily on old skills.
Once again, I’m left with questions at the end of my musing. Since I’m blogging this, and thus the second option (dialogue!) is open, feel free to comment if you have thoughts of your own.