Do you know Fancy Nancy? She’s a rather endearing character for children created by writer Jane O’Connor and illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser.
Fancy Nancy prefers fuchsia to pink, tomes rather than books, and parfaits over boring old ice cream. And, bien sur, if you can say it in French, so much the better. There is nothing so ordinary that Fancy Nancy won’t add sprinkles, ruffles, or glitter to fancy it up.
This is a charming quality in a seven-year-old.
But it’s a fatal one in a copywriter.
Fancy writing leads to errors of pretension
I once worked with a truly delightful Fancy Nancy. She had subscribed to one of those “boost your vocabulary” programs, and was always punctuating conversations with indubitably! or undeniably!
Not only did this give the strong impression of a second-grader wearing her mom’s shoes and makeup, it also led her to grasp for any fancy word that might come to mind. And every once in awhile, she fluffed it.
She routinely said “artesian” when she meant “artisan,” when just calling something handmade would have gotten her out of the woods. Folks who do this are also prone to saying that they would literally give their left arm (ick, I really hope not), and that they’re not going to do a particular thing irregardless.
When in doubt, aim low. Better to write ain’t for isn’t, and give the impression of being attractively humble, than to write conversate when you meant talk and just look like a pompous chucklehead.
This particular Fancy Nancy was a bright, capable young woman with a lot to offer, but she sabotaged herself in her quest for fanciness. Her pretension made her less credible, not more, which is one of the key problems with being a Fancy Nancy in the first place.
Fancy writing wrecks communication
Fancy writing feels great when you’re writing it.
You get lost in how luminous it all sounds, how deliriously refulgent, how incomparably rhapsodic . . .
And your poor reader is squinting at the screen trying to see if you’ve actually got anything to say in that goopy mess of words you’re piling up.
The more verbal frosting you pile onto your writing, the harder it is for your reader to see if there’s any cake in there.
21st-century readers, frankly, won’t take the time to wade through it. Whether you’re writing for the Web or the printed page, readers today don’t have time for your flights of fancy.
Go ahead and indulge your inner Fancy Nancy when you’re writing your first draft. (Trying to stifle yourself at that point only leads to writer’s block and misery.) Just be sure you edit for clarity before you unleash your writing on your helpless readers.
Write plainly and with vigor. Get your point across directly, with as much grace as you can muster. You can’t make a connection if your reader has no earthly idea what you’re talking about.
Fancy writing is unconvincing
If you’re not a professional writer, it’s easy to think that throwing a few fancy descriptions in will make your product sound more inviting. And if you are a pro, you know how often a client wants to put some fancy stuff in there to “make it sound better.”
After all, wouldn’t it be nicer to luxuriate on a cruise rather than sail on one? Isn’t a hand-crafted cup of coffee better than an ordinary one?
To answer this question for yourself, think about an ice cream sundae. A few sprinkles can make it a little fancier and more fun. But if you’re older than 10, covering every square inch of a sundae in sprinkles will just give you indigestion.
One or two well-chosen superlatives and fancy descriptors will make your offering sound appealing. Too many and it just turns into glop.
If you want to convince customers that you have something special, do it with concrete detail, stories about customer experience, and, depending on the product, maybe some killer images.
If your offering is earth-shaking, show your product shaking the earth. Just calling it “state of the art,” “exceptional” or “world-class” doesn’t convince anyone. The more superlatives you pile on, the less credible you become.
Don’t be afraid of audacity
If Fancy Nancy was just pretentious, there wouldn’t be so many bestselling books about her.
But Fancy Nancy is, above all, audacious. She’s gloriously herself. She’s a pint-sized Auntie Mame who follows her own star, which is why we love her.
If you’re a Fancy Nancy because you’re insecure and trying to look smart, give it up.
But if being fancy is your truest, deepest nature, you might take all of this with a grain of fleur de sel. Your first “rule,” above all others, is to write from your heart and dare to be exactly who you are. It’s always the way to find your best audience. You’ll just have to find the people who adore frosting . . . and yes, they’re out there.
If you’re a genuine Fancy Nancy, at least try to keep the adjectives under control. Instead, go for colorful nouns and verbs. Tell outrageous stories, paint striking word pictures, look for over-the-top examples.
And remember, a duchess in blue jeans is always more appealing than a pig in sparkly fuchsia lipstick.