Do You Know When to Stop Writing?

Finding Nemo picture

If you have young kids, you’re likely intimately familiar with Finding Nemo from 2003. The movie had the biggest opening weekend for any animated film at the time, and was the best selling DVD of all time for a couple years after.

Director Andrew Stanton pitched his idea and story to Pixar head John Lasseter in an hour long session, using elaborate visual aids and character voices. At the end of it, the exhausted Stanton asked Lasseter what he thought.

Lasseter replied, “You had me at ‘fish’.”

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  1. “If you have young kids…”

    I don’t and I’ve seen the movie at least 5 times, enjoying it every time.

    Seriously: I think this example is to show that you don’t always have to say a lot to make a point. Elaborating is not always necessary in the first phase. Maybe it’s wise to have a “summarizing” phase, look for feedback, and then elaborate, if necessary.

  2. Or, as they say, KISS. (keep it simple, stupid). I can’t think of the PC way to say it right now. Unless I get into some serious magpie mode, I try to get to the point ASAP, make pertinent comments, sum it up and then close.

  3. I get turned off by too many words. I have eyestrain and prefer people who have good ideas and get to the point.

  4. Anything more than 500 needs to be trimmed by 200 words.

  5. Well, I don’t know about that. A more correct answer would be as long as necessary, but not a word longer. :)

  6. I need to start writing shorter posts. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. Art McCormack :

    The point I walk away with here is that Stanton didn’t do his homework by failing to find out more about Lasseter’s decision making style. I doubt this was a “once in a life time… you had me at fish…” decision. As Brian said, as long as necessary is fine; how long, is determined by intimate knowledge of your target market.

  8. Colorful things, flirting around and around on a blue, watery background? They had my kids by the opening sequence… I couldn’t wait for Cars to come out so I could move from hearing underwater bubbling sounds every day to a engine revving … or so I though.

  9. I’m sorry — I drifted off after your first paragraph. You were saying? ;)

  10. how long is determined by intimate knowledge of your target market.

    Exactly.

  11. A very good point. In many cases, information overload reduces the conversion rate. Not just in writing but person to person also. I’ve seen this happen myself.
    Great post.

  12. That was really nice, thanks for that great reminder about keeping it short. As Shakespeare’s Polonius said (in Hamlet), “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

    Thanks again.

  13. Adam, heh. ;)

  14. That’s so cute, I’ve watched Nemo more times than I can count with my son. And your post is a perfect example of getting straight to the point.

  15. Brian,
    As usual, your insights have caused me to pause, and re-evaluate my writing style.

    Thanks for all the advice

  16. Bill, your writing style may be fine. My only point is to edit as tightly as possible to make your point. Let’s not make the mistake of leaving out crucial information just for the sake of brevity, or thinking that long pieces are bad. I write long posts all the time, but usually it’s because the subject matter demands it.

  17. I wonder how much the use of strong visuals (and character voices) played a part in this particular example?

    Joanna

  18. Joanna, I’m not sure, but I’m betting he said the word “fish” before any of that. :)

  19. I’m reminded of the old Bugs Bunny cartoon (“Bugs ‘n Thugs”) when he came up against the mobsters…

    Rocky: “Shut up!”

    Bugs: “Shut up? Why certainly! You don’t think I’m the type that would keep on blabbin’? Some people never know when to stop. When I’m told to shut up, I shut up…”

    Rocky: “Shut UP shut-in’ up!”

  20. I did a few of the Agora copywriting courses.

    There is one rule I still stick to.

    Make your point in 14 words or less.

  21. Good point! You have to know exactly when you have hooked your readers as well as when you have them reeled in. Too much blah*blah*blah can even backfire.

  22. That was deep :D

  23. I have to say that I commit this mistake a lot, saying a lot when I could actually make the other person understand in less words. Kinda like this. :)

  24. Its impressive how so few words can say so much.

    I need to do this more.

    Cheers

  25. Yeah. I’ve already got a ‘plan’ to work on the brevity (being the soul of wit and all) thing….starting next week.
    ;-)

    All the best!
    deb

  26. Great post! I think, like many others, I am guilty of filler just to make a post seem more in-depth than it actually is. Like using big words to make yourself sound smart. :)

  27. Yes, yes, yes.

    Most of my clients delineate word-count for projects so I’m forced to stay within their parameters.

    I spend far more time cutting, revising and polishing than writing a first draft.

    I find it helps to identify concrete goals for the piece then outline–or mindmap, whatever–rather than just letting it flow…into a 2,000 word stream of consciousness.