We’d Fire Charles Dickens If He Worked For Us

It’s not a matter of clashing personalities; we’re sure he’s a fantastic gent. But in terms of a copywriter, we have much greater expectations. So what’s so bad about Charles Dickens? You see, one of the keys to good copywriting is knowing when to stop. Long sentences. That’s the only reason Dickens would fail as a copywriter - and the only one we need. Try reading the first sentence of Oliver Twist. If you can make sense of it, we’re impressed. 

“Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born...” (We give up - and that’s only half of it.)

The issue isn’t Dickens’ literary prowess or his mastery of the English language. In today’s marketing world, he simply doesn’t get to the point quickly enough.


There isn’t time for Great Expectations these days. Today, copy is judged before you blink. Effectiveness is judged in 140 characters or less. 30-second elevator pitches are often called “too long”. Flowery sentences and exposition are great for novels. They’re poison for your blog or business. That’s why the lesson of the day is “Write Tight.” This is one of the critical keys to good copywriting-- brevity. 

“Write Tight”. The phrase itself provides all the education you need. Two words are all you need to complete a full sentence of strong copy that delivers both a message and a hook.

Look at some of the most effective copy in recent marketing memory. “Got Milk?” “Just Do It.” “Think Different.” In 7 words,  you thought of 3 brands. Your mind recalled countless images, ads and experiences. You felt something. And it didn’t take long.

So if 7 words did all that, why does adding more words end up doing less? Long sentences only serve to distract the reader from your point. People get their news in 140 characters on Twitter. Consumers can be sold on an entire brand in two words. You can’t afford to go off message, even for one syllable.


Here are some tips to help you “Write Tight” copy:

  1. If a phrase isn’t essential, lose it.

  2. Don’t write to impress. Write to persuade.

  3. Replace disposable adjectives with more specific nouns and verbs. Before: “The impressively loud muscle car picked up speed as it traveled past several highway exits towards its destination.” After: “The Camaro blazed down the highway.”

  4. Avoid redundancies - “plan ahead”, “end result”, etc.


When in doubt, 20 words should be your sentence limit. Once you pass 20, every additional word costs you up to 10% of your audience**. At that rate of attrition, one 30-word sentence could destroy an entire project.

Keep your copy clean, crisp and concise. If you focus on your message and eliminate everything that’s unnecessary, you’ll be well on your way to unstoppable copy. 

Are YOU ready to out-write Charles Dickens? fatrabbit CREATIVE is here to help.

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