Kill WILL: Writer Deej Johnson on removing a four-letter word that kills rules
Back in 2007, a few things happened that I found noteworthy. First, the ostensibly child-friendly Alvin and the Chipmunks released a hip-hop parody song called Get Munk’d. If you want to hear cartoon chipmunks sing about being given “some of that sugarland”, then by all means google it.
Second, a Dallas court case handled the allegation that a man’s pet donkey was too loud for the neighbours. Mounting his defence, attorney Gregory Shamoun brought the accused donkey into the courtroom to testify for itself. When it appeared, the donkey – Buddy – proved quite taciturn and the case was settled amicably.
Finally, 2007 was the year in which I read the half-heartedly titled online article ‘Where There’s a Will, There’s an Edit!’ Back then, I found it eye-opening. Today – well, today, I can’t find it at all! Which is a shame as I’d love to give credit where it’s due. In short, though, that article explained how easy it is to make writing sound more lively – just by getting rid of the word WILL.
As it happens, one of my very first copywriting jobs in the toy and game industry involved killing WILL. It came to the fore while rewriting the sales tag on the pouch of the sensational word game Bananagrams. At that time, its strapline was:
The Anagram Game That Will Drive You Bananas
To this day, I find it impossible to read that without tripping over the word WILL. It jars for two reasons. First, it kills the rhythm. Second, it makes what follows – “drive you bananas” – feel distant and flat. When selling or explaining games, I do think it’s better to create immediacy – and a bit of sizzle. So the edit here was a simple one. The strapline became:
The Anagram Game That Drives You Bananas
Can you feel the difference?! It’s livelier, shorter and easier to read. This isn’t a one off, though. Exactly the same thing happens in the next example. Taken from a set of rules, this instruction seems flat when you compare it to the energy of the rewrite:
Then, everyone will take a card
Then, everyone takes a card
So what’s happening here? What’s the solution? Where possible, it’s simply to take out the word WILL… Then add an s to the verb it affects. As soon as you do that, your writing will improve… Or rather: as soon as you do that, your writing improves!
Deej Johnson is a creative consultant, writer, speaker and author. He predominantly spends his time in the toy, game and media-production industries. Deej’s clients include Asmodee, Bananagrams, So Sound, Golden Bear, Disney Store and more… You can contact Deej directly via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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