Recently I edited a cookbook manuscript for a publisher, where the author used “perfect for every occasion” in one too many headnotes.
I lost it. I struck out the phrase and then went back and struck it out every time it appeared. “Perfect for every occasion” screams 1950s housewife to me. And it doesn’t make sense.
1. Most of the time, readers don’t need ideas for “occasions.” They need food for meals.
Okay, they might need the occasional dish for a potluck, a baby shower, or a new neighbor. Those are specific events. A dish cannot be perfect for every occasion. I guarantee you that the author’s Asian sandwich with cheese (oh yes, I did see that in the manuscript) would not be perfect for:
- A wake for an elderly uncle
- A four-year-old’s birthday party
- Anyone who thinks Asian dishes should not include cheese or American sandwiches.
2. Perfection is unattainable. Yet we promise readers that they can get there, if they could only make and serve this meatloaf/tomato soup/red velvet cupcake. Holy June Cleaver! Do they need to wear pearls too? If only life was so simple.
3. If it’s perfect for every occasion, readers only need one dish. Why would they need a whole cookbook? This one dish would do it for every meal.
4. “Perfection” is a cliche. When writing a recipe headnote, do we really need to tell readers that hot chocolate is perfect for a winter’s evening? They might be tired of hearing that, because, well, it’s obvious.
Shall we give perfection a rest and try something more doable? Why do you think so many writers go the “perfect” route? And it’s not just writers. Take a look at this YouTube video from a creative designer about perfection. He makes lots of fascinating points.
Update: I recently learned that editors of Real Simple magazine ban the use of the word “perfect.” Validation!
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