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Write Like Ebert

I had a rather nasty post in my blogging drafts for ages complaining about the mistakes with about pages (one-person websites hide behind vague ‘wes’ in undisclosed locations). Then Roger Ebert died.

While he doesn’t appear to be that well known outside of the US (apart from by netizens), I’ve been a fan of Ebert’s movie reviews for years. (Admittedly it may have helped that I only knew him from the web, and so missed his “thumbs up” TV show ratings that did make many write him off as unsubtle).

As the accolades rolled out, one particular detail caught my eye:

Be thankful the “editorial we” has bit the dust.

Amen to that. If it’s good enough for film critics, it’s good enough for one person shops. (OK, I know it’s not entirely the same, but for about pages at least, I’d say it is).

Ebert was a master at being both precise and caring (the exact opposite of robot or zombie copy). He was able to get across exactly what he needed to do, without resorting to snobbery or jargon.

And he was prepared to alude to his own life as well as film theory, such as in Shopgirl:

I’ve been around a long time, and young men, if there is one thing I know, it is that the only way to kiss a girl for the first time is to look like you want to and intend to, and move in fast enough to seem eager but slow enough to give her a chance to say “So anyway …” and look up as if she’s trying to remember your name.

Of course, in the wrong hands this could be shameless narcissism, but done well, it’s endearing, even poetry.

To be honest, as writers (which most of us involved in the web are, to varying degrees) there are so many things that we can pull from his writing. (But I’m sure there’ll be a Fastcodesign piece doing just that sometime soon).

RIP Roger. I’ll be adding a copy of The Great Movies to my other writing mantra The Elements of Story.

(And for the record, my favourite review of his—which I suspect I was directed to years ago via Dan Saffer—was his second review of Lost in Translation. We all know, indeed.)