I’m currently taking a copywriting course, and each participant has been asked to present a piece of writing we love, and one we hate.
A near-impossible task! How to narrow it down when there are so many to choose from, for either category?
For love, perhaps a portion of dialogue from The West Wing; a paragraph from Zadie Smith; a piece of really good food writing that makes you want to change your dinner plans on the spot. For hate, meaningless legalese; copied-and-pasted formulaic clickbait; an M&S food description that reads like an erotic novel.
In the end, I settled on two quite arbitrary examples, both of which have recently managed to elicit strong reactions in me, in 15 words or fewer. And I present them here for your amusement/anger.
A line I hate
In our larder we have a packet of cinnamon sticks. Or rather, we have the cinnamon sticks. The packet annoyed me so much that I decanted the contents into a different container.
They came from Flying Tiger, where all their spices wear puns on their packets. You can be the judge of their overall quality. Here is the offending packet:
Now, I love a good pun, but this one just does not work for me on any level. It feels forced (there’s no obvious connection between the spice and the cinema), the wording is clumsy (who says “let’s watch the latest with James Bond”?), and worst of all – you absolutely do not use cinnamon sticks to make cinnamon buns!!
And I know that’s a strong reaction for something so insignificant, but such is the power of words!
A line I love
On the other hand, I love this line from Julia Donaldson’s A Squash and a Squeeze. This children’s book tells the story of an old lady who thinks her house is too small, but after following the advice of a wise old man, discovers it’s not as tiny as she first thought.
I’ve read this to my daughter countless times, and have vivid memories of reading it whilst sitting in our little London flat (which was a decent size by London standards, and contained no livestock). My favourite line is this:
‘Even the pig in the larder agrees, the house is a squash and a squeeze.’Julia Donaldson, A Squash and a Squeeze
I appreciate that out of context it may not amuse you as much as it does me. But I really enjoy this line – it never fails to make me smile.
It’s whimsical. I love the rhythm of it. And it feels delightful to get your mouth around the different sounds. And for a kids’ story that’s designed to be read out loud, the journey from the page to the tongue to the ear is really important. Try it.
Every time I read this line – or just say it apropos of nothing, in the middle of everyday life – my daughter beams with delight, and I can’t help but laugh. The line itself is no funnier than any other in the book, but it’s an inherently joyful sentence to enunciate.
So, what about you?
Over to you, dear reader. What is a piece of writing you love, and one you hate? And if you can narrow it down to a single line, all the better.
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