Display writing—the fun stuff
The words that editors call “display”—a story’s head, deck, subheads, photo captions, pullquotes, and more—are like the hooks a songwriter uses to create an earworm. Strong display engages and delights readers and can drive them to act. It’s not always entertaining or cute; straightforward, informative display writing has a quiet power that can be compelling.
Still, there are times when we all enjoy a little poetic flourish:
Builders & the Beach
Big Sand Bay’s hodgepodge of cottage styles and creative opinions all meet at one extraordinary common ground
Jay Teitel’s feature contrasts the buzz of this community’s backlot construction activity with the serenity of its expansive beach. I wrote a rhythmic head that simply balances those two.
Farewell, Dear Plumbing
Closing the cottage may break your heart, but if you take winter storage advice from Max Burns, it won’t break the pipes
There’s always a hidden emotional core in a service story; even draining the plumbing can be a melancholy goodbye at the end of the cottage season. Writing display that is fully integrated with illustration requires close collaboration with the art department.
The Seven Year Pitch
Just a temporary solution, they thought, until we decide what to build. Then tent cottaging worked its unexpected charms
This lifestyle piece profiles several families who, instead of constructing traditional cottages, have built simple stand-alone decks and pitched tents on top. It’s a trend.
Are You Sitting Down?
We need to talk about alternative toilets
The display I wrote for Ray Ford’s guide to composting and incinerating toilets has a tone—hushed, conspiratorial, even a little embarrassed. It’s how many people feel about toilets and their contents.
For readers of Cottage Life, this gentility is an inside joke. The magazine and its subscribers are known for forthright, pragmatic talk about waste management.
Trustworthy pastry. Irresistible fillings. How to win friends and influence cottagers
Dash & Dine
Your reward for surviving the Friday drive to the cottage…
…dinner that’s a cinch to prepare and a pleasure to serve
Working on Sunshine
The questions to ask and the answers you need before buying a cottage solar-power system
A straightforward buyers’ guide to solar-power systems gets a lift with a pun head. Puns on song titles are powerful; readers hear the melody, but insert the words on the page. Instant earworm.
The Winter Picnic
A behind-the-scenes view of the cook, the shoot, and her life in two cottages
I like balancing a straightforward head with a playful deck. Recognize the cadence in this deck? Film titles rarely work as magazine display, but here I played with Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover.
All cottagers have fun, but true cowboys and girls have more, is all. How to ride taller, shoot straighter, and kick back better this summer
Toss a purtier horseshoe; wrangle them kayaks; find a secret hideaway
When I developed this editorial package with Michelle Kelly, we started by asking, “How can cottagers have more fun than ever this summer?”
The head riffs on a quick-fix package we also co-edited, “Captain Cottager,” which helped cottage heroes deal with urgent problems. To telegraph playful, enthusiastic risk-taking in the deck and subheads for this story, I used Wild West language—not what you’d hear in the real West, but the lingo of Hollywood Westerns and Yosemite Sam.
True or False:
You’re a Canuck and a cottager, so you’re pretty savvy about log cabin construction.
You don’t know lumberjack
This is unconventional opening display—a mashed head and deck that obscures the reader benefit in a service story about log-cabin construction. But the display also dares readers to turn the page and prove it wrong. It’s cheeky and flagrant, and it reads like clickbait, but it works—and the story delivers.
Escape to Barbecue Island
Build our smart barbecue work centre, spread out your food prep and tool storage, and kiss your free time goodbye. You’ll be on grill duty so often the cottage chores will just have to wait. (Shame, that.)
Why build this portable barbecue work centre? Because you’ll escape all the other chores. A deck’s benefit statement can make an outlandish promise as long as the language surrounding it says clearly, “Smile. It’s a joke.”