Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

Tying together poetry, parenting, and advertising in a neat little package

Archive for the tag “story”

Poetry Friday: “Last Autumn”

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photo courtesy of Pat Cooley

“Last Autumn”

Do you remember
when we almost got lost
down by the creek
near that old stone wall?
It all started with an apple.

One of us (I don’t recall)
had twisted the season’s last McIntosh
from a withered branch.  Sharing
small bites, we ate
all the way around
save for a dark blemish where something wild
and hungry
had gnawed its flesh.

Tossing the core deep into woods
we ran across the field
for no reason
other than to run
and laughed
for no reason
other than to laugh.

When we finally reached the creek
(were you first, or me?)
remember how we spent our time
dodging briars
walking the rocks
and making sure neither fell onto the slick
smooth stones beneath
the glassy current?
Table Rock, we called it, flat and mossy
under a beech tree rose
up to meet yellowing leaves
wind chimes
dancing
to a silent song.

I helped you onto the stone
or perhaps you helped me
and we sat there
talking of fish
and books
and apples
while the call of a lone wood thrush
made melody with the water.
For a time, we simply listened
because our ears wanted to
watched
because our eyes needed to
and before we knew, color had disappeared
from the leaves
the warm October breeze had cooled
and Venus was peeking out
from behind pale sunglow.

Not sure how we had gotten there
but knowing enough to follow the creek
I helped you
or you helped me
down from the rock
and we wandered back
retracing steps
under trees and over stones
only this time
as friends
confidantes

conspirators.

And it all started with an apple.

Do you remember?

- © 2013, Matt Forrest Esenwine

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For all of today’s Poetry Friday happenings, please visit Irene Latham at Live Your Poem!  Also be sure to join these folks on the Mortimer Minute blog hop today:

Violet mug-2Violet Nesdoly is a former International Christian Poet Laureate and regular contributor to Poetry Friday.
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papa j funk logoPapa-J Funk, meanwhile, never claimed to be a poet – although he is quite adept at creating fun and unusual rhymes in his picture book manuscripts!

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: The Mortimer Minute – with apples!

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You may have seen a furry little critter bouncing around various kid lit blogs lately…well today, he’s visiting mine!  He’s Mortimer, a buck-toothed troubadour for children’s poetry, and he’s the mascot for a Poetry Blog Hop started by fellow writer/poet April Halprin Wayland.

Here’s how it works:
1) Answer one of the previous questions asked by the blogger who tagged you, and answer two other questions you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview about children’s poetry;
2) Invite one, two or three other bloggers who write children’s poetry to answer three questions that they make up on their own blogs (again, using one of the pervious questions);
3) In the post, let readers know who your invitees are and when they’re are going to be posting their Mortimer Minute questions and answers.

Well, that sounds simple enough!

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1) What project(s) are you working on now?

Upon completing the manuscript for my winter-themed children’s poetry collection last year, I began working on an autumn-themed collection. (I figure, if an editor likes the first one, they’ll know there’s more where that came from!) I still need another 8 or so poems to complete that, but I also wrote and co-wrote two picture book manuscripts this  year and I have two other picture book ideas I’m trying to work on, too!  Is there any way to cram more than 24 hours into a standard ‘day?’

2) How do you come up with the ideas for your poetry?

Ideas are where you find them. I don’t have to look hard to come up with subject matter, but figuring out a unique angle in which to present it or twist it does require a fair amount of brain work. As I mentioned on this blog earlier this week, I try to find the angle that is least expected. For instance, at the Highlights poetry workshop I’ve been telling you about, one of the exercises David Harrison had us do was brainstorm words that had anything to do with a word he would give us. When he said the word was “jar,” everyone in the room was offering up words like “jelly,” “pickles,” and that sort of thing. One person said “sudden stopping movement,” as in the verb, “jar.”

Me? My first thought was Jar Jar Binks, that annoying character from Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I didn’t say anything, though. Even I thought it was a pretty far stretch. But my point is, dare to be different!

3) What poem do you wish you had written? 

None. There is not a single poem anywhere that I wish I’d written. There are some terrific ones out there, like Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” Silverstein’s “The Little Boy and the Old Man,” Thomas Gray’s “Ode on the death of a favorite cat,” Poe’s “To My Mother,” and just about anything Robert Frost ever wrote. But I write my own poetry, and am perfectly content with that – whether it’s any good or not.

I’ve invited two people to join the blog hop:

Violet mug-2Violet Nesdoly is a poet and regular contributor to Poetry Friday.  She’ll post her Mortimer Minute next Friday, Oct. 25.
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papa j funk logoPapa-J Funk, meanwhile, never claimed to be a poet – although he is quite adept at creating fun and unusual rhymes in his picture book manuscripts. He’ll have his ‘Minute’ Friday, Oct. 25, as well!

Speaking of poetry…

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…here’s another poem I wrote while at that Highlights poetry workshop.  Ironically, even though the workshop was geared to children’s poetry, this is definitely not a children’s poem! I was inspired to write it the first day I was there because a) it was situated in the field right across from all of our cabins and could not be missed, and b) fellow children’s writer/blogger Joy Acey prompted me to write a ‘nature’-themed poem, which is something I’ve had plenty of practice doing before!

“The Apple Tree”

An old tree
in the field across the road
stood in solitude amidst the sawgrass
and goldenrod
and a few errant wildflowers,
so full of precious fruit
I surmised it must be
in wont of a visitor
with whom to share
its treasures.

Desirous of the beauty
I beheld, I journeyed
through green-amber weeds
high to my waist, urgent
soft steps growing
quicker, quicker
and more deliberate.

The tree beckoned, lifting each coy leaf
to expose
sweet bounty beneath.
Soon, I saw boughs heavy
as the Milky Way, bearing
stars upon stars
that outnumbered
and outshone the very leaves
that held them
in the sky.

Faster and faster I trod, consumed
by a fervent lust
for sustenance;
such succulence I’d never seen!
Closer, closer, I came,
heart and eyes wide and longing
until
breaths away…

I stopped.

Under shade of canopy,
I saw clearly only now
blessed fruit blushed
with blight.

Mold-speckled faces frowned
through borers’ brown holes
while wind-wrinkled skin hung
criss-crossed with blemishes
of age and neglect.
I stared
for only a moment,
then sat close to its trunk,
where low-hanging corpses
mocked my desire…

yet,
I would not leave this spot,
for I knew my hunger
was insatiable, and my thirst
unquenched. Here
I would remain
yearning, never satisfied,
but content
with what could have been.

- © 2013, Matt Forrest Esenwine

For all of today’s Poetry Friday links and info, be sure to visit Cathy at Merely Day By Day!

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

When a good story, well-told, doesn’t tell the right story

I wasn’t planning on posting another commercial critique today.  I had customer service, rate integrity, and children’s books on my mind.

But then I came across a new commercial for Chipotle Mexican Grill, and new I had to share it.

Before we get to it, however, I’d like you to check out the commercial I featured last week HERE.  In that blog post, I explained why good stories are important in commercials, and why telling them in a compelling manner is important, too.  I also noted why the closing lines, voiced by an off-screen announcer, were so effective.

So with that in mind, take a look at this brand-new commercial (which, at over 3 minutes long, is more of a game trailer/web video) and see what you think:

Attracts your attention and creates interest? Check.

Compelling story? Check.

Emotional connection to the viewer? Check, check.

Clear message and call to action?  Uhhhhh….

As good as this commercial is, I don’t like it.  Not because it’s not a good story, and not because it’s not well-told.  This commercial fails, in my opinion, because what it’s promoting is not what the viewer thinks it’s promoting.

Throughout the spot, we see the industrialization of agriculture destroying the American way of life – a common theme in many of Chipotle’s past spots.  So the message is: Locally-sourced, sustainable, non-GMO food is better for us, for the animals, for the world.  (Keep in mind, I’m not here to debate whether this is true or not; I’m just pointing out that that’s the message.

Then, after three minutes of them pulling me into their story, their call to action is…download our app???

Did I miss something? I was just having my emotions played with and my heartstrings tugged, and was all set for Chipotle to suggest I visit them – but instead of asking me to dine at one of their restaurants, they want me to download a game app!  Talk about missed opportunities.

Had the story encouraged me to feel compelled to download the app, I’d probably love the commercial. As it is, though, this story made me feel like supporting local agriculture, buying chemical-free meat, and going to Chipotle Mexican Grille for dinner…

…but, OOPS!  That’s not what the folks at Chipotle want me to do. They don’t want me to patronize their restaurant.

They want me to download an app.

Another fail – and a BIG Plus

ID-1009466 (veggies)

“Eat FRESH!” Oh, wait – that’s a different company, too.

One other thing that caught my attention – and not in a good way – comes at 2:17, when the scarecrow goes to the farm and picks a fresh vegetable from the vine. Now, he could have picked any veggie there – tomato, onion, corn, whatever - but the very first one he picks…is the Chili’s Grill & Bar logo.  I know, I know – Chipotle uses a chili pepper as their logo, too – but Chipotle’s is a black & white artistic rendering of a chili pepper, not a bright red, curvy chili pepper with a green top that looks like it was just pilfered from a Chili’s Bar & Grill sign.

Not a good idea, when you haven’t stated the name of your business in your commercial yet – or haven’t even hinted at a call to action yet.

Which brings me to the Big Plus. For years, I’ve been telling clients and sales reps that the business name does not need to be mentioned in the first 5 seconds of a commercial, nor does it need to be splattered throughout the body of the spot 20 times to make sure the listener remembered it. Heck, I’ve written and produced 60-second radio commercials that don’t give the client name until 45 seconds in!  If the story is compelling, the listener (or viewer) will wait for it – and remember it.

I also have to give a “little plus” to their choice of music:  the song, “Pure imagination” from the 1971 movie, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory fits the mood of the production perfectly.

This commercial will help Chipotle get people in the door only because the public has grown accustomed to their style of commercial and their message (even though it was quite muddled this time).  I’m sure it’ll become somewhat of a viral hit, too, which will be a positive.

So to say the video won’t be effective is doing it a disservice; a commercial is effective if it works.  In this case, if Chipotle gets more people through their doors – but very few download the app – can it be considered an effective commercial or not?  What do you think? I’d love to get your thoughts!

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

A good story, well-told, always trumps the gimmicks

This is going to be a short post; as you may know, my wife gave birth to her second child a mere 3 weeks ago, so neither of us have been getting much sleep lately! Granted, I get more than my wife since she’s nursing the baby, but all that means is that I get 4 hours of sleep compared to her 2…so neither of us is ‘winning’ in the REM-stage department.

Because of this, it’s all I can do to help keep the house maintained while trying to actually do work. So I was considering  posting a short blog entry today when I came across this commercial; as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to share it.

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I’ve written previous posts about the importance of storytelling in commercials, the necessity of keeping the story and your message straightforward, and of the value of using language everyone understands.  I’ve also given numerous examples of why a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is so important.  Even if it wasn’t an advertisement, the following commercial is a terrific example of storytelling.

It does not rely on sexy women, talking animals, precocious kids, fantasy dream-sequences, or multiple jump-cuts. It is not funny, stylish, artsy, outlandish,or hip.

Rather, it features a simple-to-understand and emotionally stirring plot, and because it is told more visually than verbally, anyone watching it can understand what’s going on. Although the USP may not be explicitly stated, this is a brand most folks recognize as being unique unto itself, and the ultimate message of the commercial – that it’s a special kind of person who uses this product – is unmistakable.

That message is driven home by the last sentence spoken at the end of the spot:

Move over, Budweiser Clydesdales…there are still more heartstrings yet to be tugged, and Guinness has a firm grasp on them.

What do you think of the commercial – as an ad, or simply as a story? I’d love to get your thoughts!

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: “Worm Tale”

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Some poems almost write themselves; the idea pops into your head, you start writing, and before you know it a perfect little masterpiece is smiling back at you.

And then there are poems like this one.

I wrote the first draft of this back in 2011. No sooner had I lifted pen from paper, when I decided to make some changes. And then a couple months later I made some more changes.

Then I thought about those changes…and made some more.

Do you see where this is going?

Well, I just finally completed what I believe to be the final draft – but of course, at this rate, that’s a rather tenuous statement. Many thanks to the Poet’s Garage, my online critique group, who helped me fix a few sticky lines. As with most advice, I took some of it to heart - and ignored the rest of it (no offense, folks!).  Hopefully what I ignored won’t come back to bite me!  For all of today’s Poetry Friday fun, be sure to visit Betsy at Teaching Young Writers!

“Worm Tale”

Mommy worm
was very firm;
she sternly warned her baby worm
to be aware of where one squirms
and stay away from dirty germs.
She said, “Where earth is warm and firm
is no place for a worm to squirm,
so do not go near sunny ferns
or you’ll get dirty, germy burns!”
But baby worm was unconcerned,
and one day from the dirt returned
with fern stains on her wormy shirt
and germs upon her dirty skirt.
Her eyes were sore, her head – it hurt.
She couldn’t even eat dessert!
So mommy worm told baby worm
it only takes one dirty germ
to make a tiny tummy turn.
But baby worm showed no concern
for mommy’s warning where to squirm;
next day, a naughty little worm
was back to squirming under fern.

I guess some worms will never learn.

- - © 2013, Matt Forrest Esenwine

Commercials: The little things are starting to pile up

Last week, I wrote about details in writing - whether it’s for commercials or creative writing. I spotlighted a couple of commercials that I thought could have been improved and one that I felt was well-done.

And because there seems to be no end to the number of TV commercials that annoy me…I present ‘Part 2.’

I hadn’t planned on doing another post on commercials today – or even on advertising in general – but soon after I had finished writing last week’s diatribe, I felt another one welling up inside me.  So please forgive me for indulging in a second little rant; heck, it’s my blog, after all!

Of course I hope, as always, that some of points I make about copy writing and production can be directly correlated to other types of writing such as poems, stories, and books.  Continuity errors, misleading untruths, and confusing messages are hardly confined to the advertising realm.

Which unravels faster: the clothes or the message?

Some things get better with time: wine, cheese, friendships. A sales message should not be one of them. In the case of the following commercial, it took repeated viewings – and an explanation from my wife – for me to understand just what’s going on. This is a perfect example of a message getting lost in creativity:

Here’s your trivia question: what’s with the yarn?? Why is this car unraveling all these clothes? If you don’t know, go ahead and watch it again and see if you can figure it out.

Now then, if you have the answer, congratulations – you did better than me.  I had seen this TV spot innumerable times and never knew what was going on.  It took my wife at least seven viewings before she suddenly announced, “I finally figured it out!”  She explained that the clothes are unraveling because winter is over and the car is bringing spring to the world. In actuality, after I paid close attention to it, the commercial is advertising a sale.

No prices, no features, no Unique Selling Proposition…just an announcement for a sale.  This commercial basically takes half a minute to say, “We’re having a sale.”  I could be way off base here, but wouldn’t it be nice to know why I should care about the sale – or why I should want an Infiniti? Is it too much to ask for a few little details? Perhaps, if one can afford to own an Infiniti, one already knows all about the features of the Infiniti and therefore one needn’t concern oneself with the price of an Infiniti.

But that negates the need for a sale now, doesn’t it?

Fun with science

Every time this commercial comes on the TV, my wife sighs. Not because of the commercial itself, but because of my reaction to a mere 1.5 seconds of it:

This isn’t a bad commercial…but it is misleading. Check out what’s happening :15 in. See those little yellowish critters, squiggling around in the sewage? Those are supposed to be enzymes, breaking down the waste.  Well, guess what?

Here’s a news flash:  enzymes are MOLECULES, folks!

They are naturally-occurring chemicals - not living creatures that scoot around inside your septic tank, chewing up your poop like Pac-Man chasing after a cherry.

This is what drives me nuts.  I know this dramatization has nothing to do with the true efficacy of Rid-X, but when I see this blatant error (or misleading animation – I’m not sure which), it makes me wonder what else I’m being misled about.  Be true to your subject! Whether you’re writing a commercial, poem, or novel…remember that suspension of disbelief only goes so far.

A good commercial, made better

This spot, by contrast, is a fine example of a clear, compelling message:

Zero Water TV spot: ‘The Waiter”

Zero Water filters are so good, they can filter out wine from tap water! I have no idea if that’s true, but it only took me one viewing of this commercial to understand that message. Like most good commercials, it’s a story: wine is poured into tap water, tap water is filtered, the Zero Water filter filters out the wine while the competition fails. And the genuinely surprised reaction by the man in the audience is a nice touch – a small detail, like we talked about last week - that makes a big impact.

But the commercial wasn’t always this good. Here’s how it first appeared:

The two biggest changes the ad agency made were the most important. First, they took the focus off the waiter; his goofy expression takes away from the straightforward, realistic style of a more-or-less-serious spot. And the reaction of the woman was, well, uhh – almost a non-reaction. She’s just sort of…there.  The gentleman in the newer spot appears to be honestly surprised and impressed, and that air of realism is important to the overall tone of the spot.

Be honest, be clear!

Don’t muddle your message with some cutesy ‘hook’ – like pulling strands of yarn off people to sell a luxury car in the spring. “Spring” is not the message, and “yarn” certainly isn’t, either.  And don’t assume your potential customers are too stupid to know what you’re telling them, such as enzymes that go chomp-chomp-chomping around your septic system.  Be honest, be clear, and make sure viewers (or listeners, if you’re in radio) know what you’re selling and why they should care.

Those two things – the product/service and the benefit of that product/service – should be first and foremost in your mind.

I’ll take “highly effective” over “highly creative” any day.

Commercials: It’s the little things that mean so much

After spending April celebrating National Poetry Month, I’m glad to get back into one of the other aspects of this blog: advertising! But as you might know, I try to offer something for all writers when I discuss voice work, commercials, or copy writing.  In past posts, I’ve touched on a variety of topics that, although they are about commercial production, the insights I try to impart can be utilized in various forms of writing.

I hope I can say the same for this post – because it’s all about details.

You see, I’m a stickler for them. Some might say I’m a perfectionist, but I don’t think so.  I am, to use an overused cliché, very detail-oriented. And although I admit some things get past me, I will usually pore over the details of the scripts and audio I’m working on to make sure everything is as it should be. Which is why I am constantly surprised that glaring inconsistencies get past entire boardrooms and committees made up of advertising execs.

Are you sure that’s the Downward Dog?

Take, for instance, this commercial that’s been going around for a few months:

On the surface, there isn’t really anything terribly wrong with this spot. It tries to connect with the viewer by offering scenarios that might be familiar with potential clients. It has some good clips of average hotel customers engaging in a variety of activities one would might expect. But what’s going on there, 10 seconds into the spot? Go ahead and watch it again, and pause at exactly :10.

Now, I’m no yoga expert, but I’m pretty sure that woman is attempting a pose that is NOWHERE CLOSE to the pose on the TV. Aside from the fact that I can’t imagine anyone eating cereal while doing yoga…what is going on there?? Who was in charge of continuity? How did this get past everyone – from producers to director to editing crew to boardroom to client – and get the green light? Perhaps they all hoped that this gaffe might give them some additional exposure by being spotlighted on Matt Forrest’s Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme blog, in which case, I suppose it paid off.

The seafood commercial that’s not:

Now let’s take a look at a great example of why it’s important that the imagery you use in your “highly creative” commercial should directly relate to your product:

OK, so what’s the one image you recall from that commercial? Most folks would probably say bears, which aren’t popularly known for eating vegetables. Or perhaps fish, since that’s what the mother bear was trying to catch for dinner. I doubt most people would say the first thing they remember is “new flavours of seasoned vegetable blends that can be microwaved.”

Did you realize those are new vegetable blends? Did you know the bags can be microwaved?  Did you realize these blends are seasoned? Do you know any of the flavours?

Now, maybe I’m way off base here, but these seem to be pretty important points, wouldn’t you say? I mean, if you’re selling bags of seasoned frozen vegetables that don’t need to be opened before cooking, and they come in all sorts of new, chef-inspired flavours, shouldn’t you be telling people this – instead of leaving them with the image in their head of bears fishing for salmon??

By the way, while preparing this blog post, I mentioned this commercial to my 18-year-old daughter, who was aware of it and told me there’s also one featuring wolves (you can view that here).  But hold on there, Jethro – even though I said she remembered the commercial, I didn’t say she remembered what it was for.  She knew it was advertising frozen vegetables, but couldn’t recall the flavours, the benefits, or the brand.

Which is good news for Green Giant, Hanover, Pictsweet, and any other frozen vegetable brand out there.

The beauty in realism

When one considers all the times that ad agencies lose sight of their message, goof up their continuity, or get bogged down with trying to be funny instead of being effective…it’s nice to see spots like this:

This commercial fulfills all its obligations.  It immediately draws the viewer into a story involving a number of different types of people - young folks, adults, men, women – all of whom are potential customers. It creates interest in the product, deftly showcasing the Galaxy’s new features by showing, not telling (something all those creative writers out there know more than just a little about). And it not only showcases the features, but more importantly, it demonstrates the benefits of those features.

Hands-free answering and viewing?  Cool.  Sharing pics simply by touching phones back-to-back, or taking multiple quick-action photos and seeing a time-lapse of all the action in one picture?  Way cool.  Remote-control of your TV?  Now we’re talkin’ ice cold.  But the best part of the spot?  Four magical words that come at the :40 mark.  Right after a young woman takes a photo and shares it with her friend by placing the backs of their phones together, the grandmother asks that same young woman if she’d mind sharing the photo on her phone, too – to which the young woman replies:

“Yours doesn’t do that.”

Ouch.  Harsh, no?  Yet we’ve all been there. We’ve either been the young woman or we’ve been the grandmother, in some circumstance or another, where we really, really, wanted to do something, but couldn’t. Being left out sucks – and this commercial reinforces that feeling gently but powerfully, with just four little words.

Creative writers, take note!

Details.  Show, don’t tell.  Relatable characters.  The same things that make commercials work (or not work) make your writing work or not work, whether it’s a picture book, poem, or novel.

If you are a creative writer, none of this is news to you – but hopefully it serves as a reminder how important these sorts of things are. If you’re a copy writer or producer, none of this should be news to you, either – but obviously a couple of these points got past at least a few people at Bird’s Eye and Homewood Suites.

Frozen veggies, hotel rooms, or smartphones…vampires, love triangles, or puppies…no matter what you’re writing about, no matter why, be good to your subject.  Draw attention, create interest, tell your story – and pay attention to the details!

“Love means swallowing your heart” – and eleven other things you would have learned at the 2013 NE-SCBWI Conference

This past weekend was a long one. I spent Friday through Sunday at the New England chapter of the SCBWI’s (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) 2013 conference in Springfield, Mass, catching up with friends and fellow writers and filling my cranium with knowledge and inspiration. It was a fun time, but very educational, as always; unfortunately, three days of picture books, chapter books, and YA novels goes by extremely quickly.

Against this backdrop of serious discussions and goofy conversations, slick PowerPoints and old-fashioned pens & papers, door prizes, open mics, and wine & cheese socials…all of us who attended learned a great deal about the industry, our craft, and ourselves. Listing everything I gleaned from the conference would be impossible; however, I thought I would share a few choice tidbits that stuck in my mind.

Here, then, are one dozen of the many things I either learned – or was reminded of – at the 2013 NESCBWI Conference, “Word by Word: The Art of Craft:”

nescbwi13-logo-H1) It’s OK if your first draft sucks. Yes, we all know that first drafts will go through innumerable changes before they ever become final drafts…but this is good to remember. Just because you don’t like your first draft doesn’t mean it’s destined for the circular file; revise, revise, revise!

2) Having an intimate knowledge of the rules is important if you want to break them. Author Chris Eboch (The Eyes of the Pharaoh, The Ghost on the Stairs) taught a workshop titled, “The Elusive Voice” and outlined some ideas and methods for giving your characters their own unique voices.  During the course of this 2-hour intensive, she reminded us  that once one learns the rules, understands the rules, and masters the rules…one can break the rules. Good advice for poets, too!

3) Every story has a voice. Chris said that it doesn’t matter who the narrator is.  It might be a strong voice, a poetic voice, or an awkward or clunky voice – so remember that just because your story has a ‘voice,’ doesn’t mean it’s a good one!

4) If you realize you forgot to bring your business cards 20 minutes after you leave for a conference that is 2 1/2 hours away…take the time and turn around and get them! Still kicking myself over that one.

5) Becoming an overnight success takes a lot longer than you might think. So many published authors had such similar stories: it took five years to land the first contract, took 10 years to write the first manuscript that was sold, it took over 50 rejections before getting an acceptance.  Knowing this doesn’t really make things any easier for people like me, but it is a little reassuring to know I’m not the only one beating my head against the wall, trying to find an agent or publisher.

6) Bacon is like sex. Even if the bacon isn’t all that good…it’s still bacon! (This came from one of those “goofy conversations” to which I alluded earlier. And no, we weren’t drinking.)

chinese_translations_for_peaceful_9981_6_184

7) Love means swallowing your heart. This was perhaps the coolest thing I learned all weekend, thanks to author/illustrator Grace Lin (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Ling & Ting).  She explained that the Chinese language – which, of course, consists of characters representing complete words – is actually made up of multiple words or concepts. For example, the Chinese character for “peaceful” is a combination of the characters for “house” and “woman,” and literally means “woman in the house.”  Similarly, the Chinese character for “love” is made up of characters representing three separate concepts: “to swallow,” “heart,” and “person walking.” Literally, love means swallowing (or taking in) one’s heart. Very poetic, yes?

chinese-symbol-for-love-blaukai

8) It’s OK to sell your soul to corporate America to pay the bills. Well, Grace didn’t exactly say that – I’m paraphrasing – but that was the takeaway. She admitted that, while she was struggling to make her path as an illustrator, she designed kitschy products like coffee mugs and T-shirts that declared, “World’s Greatest Dad!” and that sort of thing. She said she was simply doing her part to help keep America’s landfills full!

9) It’s also OK to not write poetry in syllabic verse. Aspiring writers like Yours Truly are constantly being told to write poetry in perfect meter and rhyme, but that’s not necessarily true. Children’s poet/author Leslie Bulion (The Universe of Fair, At the Seafloor Café) shed light on this during her 2-hour intensive workshop, “The Art and Craft of Poetic Form.” Perfect rhyme…yes. Unless you have a really good reason for a slant rhyme, it better be perfect. (See Rule #2, above!)

Universe_of_Fair-front_(1)-330Meter, however, is something else. Leslie writes in accentual verse, meaning she concerns herself with the stressed beats per each line, but not the specific meter. This means that, for example, a line she writes in trochaic tetrameter may or may not have four precise metrical feet of two beats (stressed/unstressed) each. I’ve always tried to be very tight with my metrical syllabic verse…but thanks to Leslie, I feel I can lighten up a little!

10) Just because hotel beds are uncomfortable doesn’t mean you won’t oversleep. I tossed and turned all Friday night, yet I still woke up with barely 15 minutes left before breakfast ended. I made it there with 5 minutes to spare, not because I was wide awake and full of energy – but because no one messes with my breakfast.

11) Verse novelists are not mentally unstable. If you are a verse novelist, this may or may not come as a surprise to you.  Padma Venkatraman (Island’s End, Climbing the Stairs) had one of the best lines of the conference when, during a panel discussion on historical fiction, she announced that verse novelists, like many writers, hear multiple voices in their heads. The only reason they are not clinically diagnosed with schizophrenia, she said, is because they only listen to the voices and don’t start up conversations with them.

12) If a hotel is going to serve lunch to hundreds of people all packed into one large ballroom, serving black bean soup is probably not the best choice for an appetizer. Good thing they opened the doors. Just sayin.’

My thanks to everyone at NESCBWI for their hard work and success with pulling off another terrific conference, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s! I had a chance to chat with old friends and meet new ones, and am eager to get working on a couple of new projects…which I’m predicting will be written in accentual verse. Thanks, Leslie!

Poetry Friday: “The Search”

For today, I thought I’d stick with the more serious tone I had taken with last week’s poem…although this is definitely a little livelier!  Much of my children’s poetry is humourous, but I’ve been working on a collection of poems that deal with inspiration, dreams, and encouragement – and this just sort of popped out of nowhere and almost
poetryfridaybutton-fulllwrote itself. (Yes, I have multiple poetry collection manuscripts I’m writing simultaneously; I figure if one of them gets picked up, at least I’ll have plenty more where that came from!)

Hope you like it. Speaking of ‘more where that came from’…make sure you visit this week’s Poetry Friday hostess, Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe, for the complete, poetic round-up!

“The Search”

I went on a journey
Of faraway places;
Travelled new roads,
Discovered new faces,
Saw the Great Pyramid,
Walked the Great Wall,
Spoke in strange tongues
I barely recall,
Sheltered in catacombs
Rarely explored,
Rode a king’s horses,
Laid down his sword,
Sailed around islands
In tropical climes,
Caught up with pirates,
Paid for their crimes,
Crawled with the sidewinders,
Swam with the rays,
Ran with a cheetah,
Sang with the jays,
Danced with the dolphins,
Scaled rocks with a ram,
Slept with a lion,
Lay with a lamb,
And though there are tales
That are yet to be penned
Still, my adventures
Have come to an end
And I have to concede
Where I may have been wrong…
What I thought had been lost,
Was here all along.

- © 2013 Matt Forrest Esenwine

Super Bowl 2013 Commercials: Touchdowns, Fumbles, and Questionable Calls

This past Sunday night, millions tuned in to CBS for the 47th Super Bowl. And if you managed to make it all the way through  Alicia Keye’s “stirring” rendition of our national anthem, you eventually got to see a football game.

Of course, the competition is not the only draw; a number of folks who watch the game tune in to see the commercials, the production of which has become an annual game of advertising one-upsmanship unto itself. If you have not seen them, there are plenty of ways to find them on the internet. I’m not going to post every single one. Some were funny, some were touching, some were downright bizarre (what was Taco Bell thinking??)…but most were forgettable. The few I’m going to talk about today are the ones that – for better or worse – left the biggest impression on me.

Touchdowns

These are the only three commercials I felt really nailed their objective – that is, to attract the viewers attention, to create interest and a desire to act, and give a clear, compelling message. First on my list (and on a lot of people’s lists) is the return of the Budweiser Clydesdales in “Brotherhood”:

 

You can almost never go wring with the Budweiser Clydesdales. This spot is nostalgic, charming, warm, fuzzy…but doesn’t feel pandering. It not only draws the viewer in by telling a compelling story, it reinforces the brand as part of the fabric of American family life. And really, what more could a brand want?

(Side note: the foal they used was born on Jan. 16, and was just seven days old at the time of the commercial’s filming. The fact that people are just learning about this now is helping to continue the momentum of the spot…and drive viewership)

The second commercial I felt was also successful – if not underrated – was the Sketchers ad, “Man vs. Cheetah:”

 

This spot isn’t showing up on many ‘lists’ of this year’s top Super Bowl commercials, probably because it’s not laugh-out-loud hilarious, rip-your-heart-out poignant, or scratch-your-head-wondering-what-the-hell-just happened bizarre. (Most car manufacturers, especially Hyundai, seemed to have a near-monopoly on that last category) But this spot does what every effective spot should do: it directly ties together the premise with the benefits of the product. Too many commercials try to connect the product to a contrived premise, which leads to a confusing, ineffective message – if there’s a message at all.

The third commercial that stood out for me was Tide’s “Miracle Stain:”

 

Here again, it’s a compelling story told with humour that immediately gets your attention, creates interest, and concludes with a perfect ending. It doesn’t get into the details of why Tide is so great, it doesn’t compare itself to other detergents…it just puts the brand front and center as the payoff.  Ironically, the brand becomes the downfall of the main character – an unusual twist – and that reinforces the notion that Tide’s power is somehow ‘non-discriminatory.’  For top-of-mind awareness, this was a winner.

Fumbles

I could give you a long list of all the spots I thought were failures. Actually, I can’t. Many of the spots were so forgettable…I forgot them. And personally, I don’t feel like sifting through all the Super bowl 2013 commercials just to find the worst ones. So here are a couple that really annoyed me.

First up, Volkswagen’s “Get In, Get Happy:”

 

OK, OK, the spot is amusing. It does make you smile. Even I chuckled when the guy says to turn the frown “dee udder way ah-roond!”  But let’s be serious: did it compell you to consider buying a Volkswagen? Did it spotlight any benefits to driving Volkswagens, other than they’ll make you happy? Without rewatching it, was the car they were driving a Beetle or a Jetta? This is an example of trying to get a premise to fit the brand. Sure, you might be happy driving a VW – but the image the viewer is ultimately left with is a white guy speaking like a Jamaican, not a red 2013 Beetle.

The second spot (actually a series of spots) that I felt missed the mark were Coca-Cola’s “Chase ads.” Here’s one of them:

Apparently, the idea was that viewers were supposed to log onto Coke’s website and vote how the story ended. A good idea to create a story that continues through the game. Unfortunately, Coke forgot two important things: 1) you need to compell viewers to take action, and 2) you need to compell viewers to take action.

I don’t know how many people bothered to log on and choose the ending – because, frankly, I didn’t care. Why should I? A bunch of strange characters are racing somewhere…I don’t know who they are, why I should care about them, or why I should be bothered to log onto Coke’s website. Hey, here’s some free advice for Coke’s ad agency: compell me to BUY A COKE. You’re welcome.

Questionable Calls

These are spots that were memorable and did a pretty good job of getting people to take notice of the product or brand, but fell a few yards short  (to carry the metaphor).

First up, the one everyone’s been talking about…GoDaddy.com’s “Perfect Match:”

 

Yes, my skin’s still crawling, too. A lot of folks have slammed this commercial for being tacky, crude, and totally un-funny. It is, indeed, all of those things…but we’re still talking about it, and that was the plan.  Come to think of it, it may also be the first time I’ve turned away from looking at Bar Rafaeli. Those Go Daddy people are just evil.

Another commercial that swung hard and missed was Ram Trucks’ “Farmer:”

I realize I’m going against a lot of my fellow ad geeks and agencies – but I was really disappointed in this. The production values are terrific. The intonations of the late, great Paul Harvey are sincere and stirring. The images are powerful. And the fact that it never felt like a two-minute commercial reinforces my belief that a compelling story will maintain the interest and attention of the viewer or listener, no matter how long it is. If a story starts to feel long – whether it’s a commercial, movie, or book – it’s not as compelling as it should have been.

My problem with this spot is the payoff. After watching this heartfelt tribute to the American farmer…we discover it’s a pitch for Ram Trucks. Really? You’re going to play with my emotions for a play at my wallet? I just felt let down. Now, I’ve thought about this quite a bit – about how they could have done this without it coming off as being tacky or cheesy – and I think if it they had used a different line other than, “to the farmer in all of us.” That line feels like they’re pushing their trucks on me. Perhaps a subtler, “thank you, farmers” or something that at least felt less pitchy, less…sales-y. I don’t know.  I’m still torn on this one, but it’s still not sitting well with me.

Runner-Up

The last commercial I want to spotlight was Oreo’s “Whisper Fight,” which gets a nod not for its uniqueness, but for what Oreo’s executives managed to do in the middle of the game. First, the spot:

 

It was funny, yes – I was laughing along with everyone else – but it felt like a retread of the old, classic Miller Light commercials: “Tastes great! Less filling!” Not a great commercial, but I think it definitely will have life after the Super Bowl – and it was certainly one of the funnier spots, which helps with top-of-mind awareness. I’m not sure how many viewers were compelled (there’s that word again!) to take the call to action and send an Instagram to @Oreo on Twitter, but Twitter is where the real action ended up taking place…

Only a few minutes into the 3rd quarter, half the stadium’s power went out – leaving literally half of the stadium in darkness for 34 minutes. During that time, Oreo’s ad agency, 360i, received approval from the company execs to send out a graphic on Twitter showing part of an Oreo cookie and the phrase, “You can still dunk in the dark.” According to Buzzfeed, the image has been retweeted more than 14,000 times and the Facebook graphic has amassed 20,000+ “likes.” As Buzzfeed points out, the brand that got the biggest impact on the most expensive advertising day of the year…may have done it for nothing! Gotta love social media.

So what commercials did you feel had the biggest impact? Any I missed? Am I totally off the mark on any of these? LEt me know – I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section, below. And if you liked this post, feel free share it and subscribe to the blog! Thanks…and keep in touch!

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Laura Purdie Salas

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