Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Last Minute Christmas Ideas

It's that time of year again, when magazines fill up with 'year-end round-up' articles and 'best of' lists, but what if the journalist in your life has left it to the last minute to hand in an article? Well, don't panic, because even at this late stage, there are still article ideas you can give them, for example…

Shopping For Women
This is a perennially popular theme, and you can't really go wrong with it. Remember to start from the premise that all men are eye-rollingly gormless when it comes to this sort of thing - particularly the buying of underwear, when, left to their own devices, men inevitably buy red PVC basques in the wrong size.
Perfume and bathroom products are always a favourite, mainly because the nature of the items can't really be conveyed on the printed page, and you can dupe the testicle-toting fools into buying something which is stunningly well packaged, but actually smells as if a mouse has died behind the radiator. Of course, an article of this nature implies that the gift recipient smells, and if the gift itself smells bad, it's doubly insulting, suggesting that the revolting stench of the gift is none the less preferable to the woman's natural odour.
Shoes and handbags are always a safe bet for an article, too - not only are there so many colour and style variables that you can probably make your word count easily just by dropping in a few big designer names and references to current trends (which you can always contort to fit your brief), but best of all, you can drop in a few references to how men don't understand women and their love for shoes and handbags. God, men are stupid, aren't they girls? Eh? Eh?

Shopping For Men
Again, very popular, and nice and easy. All men love all gadgets, so just take a look at a few websites and make up some stuff about 'this year's hottest trend' or 'really big in the USA at the moment' or something like that.
DVD box sets are always a nice shelf- and page-filler, and as all men love Bond films, you can always recommend whatever the latest version of the Bond boxed set happens to be; this idea has the added attraction of enabling you to make some irrelevant but wordcount-upping comments about people having a favourite Bond actor (with examples), or about Daniel Craig being blonde-haired, or, if all else fails, you can refer to Ursula Andress in her bikini as 'iconic' (perfect excuse to illustrate the article with an appropriate photo, thus filling more space and increasing the sex-factor of the article. Ka-ching!).
If the journalist in your life is writing for something a bit alternative and wants to seem a bit edgy, then they may need to come from a less mainstream angle than the Bond films, so bear in mind that even though all men love Bond films, any men who don't love Bond films will always love all Tarantino films. Don't be afraid to write about the DVD releases of these, peppering the article with quotes from Pulp Fiction, speculation about what's in the briefcase, suggestions that you'd always been a huge fan of Pam Grier's work, and of course you can always refer to Uma Thurman in her tracksuit as 'iconic' (see above re illustrating article, etc).

Shopping Experiences
In the past few years, with the growth of the internet, we've seen an explosion of articles comparing online and real-life shopping experiences, and these are always a good way to fill the bits between adverts in magazines and papers. The benefit of writing about online shopping is that you can do all your research sitting at your desk, cutting and pasting from the websites in question, so it's all in the comfort of your own home.
On the other hand, nothing really beats going out and doing all your Christmas shopping article research in real shops, as you can write about the shop's d├ęcor, the crowds of people, the music of Wizzard and Slade pumped at you from speakers, and the rudeness of shop assistants and/or other customers.
This latter is an important element of the shopping experience article, as, unlike web-based shopping, what someone said to you in a shop is hard to verify, whereas with an online shopping article you might get some bored or nosey sub-editor actually looking at the website to see if what you've said in your article is true - which can be a nuisance if you've said that you can buy a brontosaurus from Amazon or something like that. So think carefully about whether online or real-life shopping is the experience for your article.

Shopping For Children
Although over 50% of the homes in the UK don't have children in, it's always a safe bet that an editor will accept an article on shopping for kids at Christmas. Like the 'shopping experience' article, this gives you a lot to work with - the store itself, the experience of trying to find something suitable, and if you write as if you've taken the child shopping with you, you can always end on an emotional note - such as:
"When we got home, Molly looked me in the eye.
'I don't mind about not getting the toy I wanted,' she said, thoughtfully.
'No?' I replied. 'Why's that?'
'Because I enjoyed spending time with you, Mummy. That's all I want for Christmas, really.'
I turned away, so she couldn't see my eyes fill with tears."
Of course, you can also get a lot of mileage out of talking about the latest crazes amongst kids, and how you don't understand them. You can either play this ignorant for humorous effect ('Is an X-Box something to do with Simon Cowell?') or faintly indignant ('When I was growing up, we didn't have games consoles, we were thankful if our Christmas stocking contained a mouldy tangerine and a hardened lump of grandma's excrement'). Don't forget, the semi-nostalgia angle article is like a present without wrapping unless you refer to Raleigh Choppers or Spacehoppers.

Party Season
Many people who work in offices or other shared environs have some kind of work 'do', so this is often a safe bet - as long as you write about it from the standard position, which is that December is an endless whirl of parties for which all female readers must buy new outfits, and at which all male readers will be trying to get a snog from a female member of staff (always try to make this sound like a given, or received wisdom, by giving an example of the sort of department the female in question might work in, but make it sound both casual and plausible - for example, 'the pretty girl in HR' or 'the brunette in goods received').
Regardless of the fact that most people will, at best, have one work do and attend one party thrown by friends, feel free to make December sound like a non-stop carnival of parties, at which all work bashes involve champagne flutes, cocktail dresses and refined environments (as opposed to a meal in the local Harvester, which is more likely to be the reality), and all parties hosted by friends are (if you're writing for a female audience) like something out of a Helen Fielding novel or (if your readers are male) a National Lampoon film.

This Year's Christmas Must-Haves
If you have a page to fill and no time at all, then the Nigella Express of articles is surely 'this year's must-haves'. Take pictures of items from websites or press releases, put in little details of stockists underneath them, repeating until the page is full. If you can find a picture of someone in the public eye using, holding or wearing any of the items, then so much the better.
Remember to use the phrase 'must-haves' in the title or subtitle, or the article will be unfit for print; 'must-have' is a magically-imbued phrase which renders your readers both susceptible and slightly disoriented, so that they'll both feel somehow like they ought to buy whatever random tat you've given pagespace to, whilst simultaneously wiping their memory of the fact that, in the previous issue, you told them that items of an entirely different nature were things they ought to have.
If you do not use the phrase, the article will look like a haphazard collection of images that could have been assembled by an infant with access to a pot of glue and a copy of the latest Argos catalogue and your editor will not consider it a 'must-have' in publication terms.

Last Minute Ideas - Last Resort
If you have to write something shortly before Christmas, and genuinely have nothing at all to say, then the only route left to you is to take the 'last minute' route, and to either write about your own 'trying to get gifts/cook a meal/whatever at the last minute' experience (but do bear in mind this might actually take some effort to create), or - and this is easier - to write an article advising people on what they should do if they find themselves empty-handed (or empty-headed) at this time.
It might seem like a cop-out option, but in fact its timing makes it a sure-fire candidate for publication - not only does it look suitably aligned to the calendar, but the time of year means people tend to have other things on their mind, so the editor's less likely to spot the absence of any real point or merit to the article, and the reader's probably not going to realise that the whole things is just an exercise designed to waste their time and energy to no real purpose.

...Which, of course, applies to these words as well.

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