Hyperboles are a great way to emphasize a point or help readers experience a character’s feelings. Sometimes, they can even be funny. They’re also great to use in dialogue because they add authenticity to our characters. After all, people use these figures of speech all the time. So, what are they?
Rebecca McClanahan, in her excellent book Word Painting, calls hyperboles exaggerated metaphors or similes. They’re exaggerations, or over-exaggeration, that aren’t meant to be understood literally.
Doug lives like a dog.
Does Doug literally live like a dog? Of course not. This expression just means he has a hard life.
My golf bag weighs a ton.
Well, let’s hope my golf clubs aren’t that heavy. I’m using a hyperbole to show that I’m struggling to carry such an overloaded golf bag.
“Well, bless your heart.”
Euphemisms express politeness when the opposite is intended.
If an American Southerner ever says to you, “bless your heart,” don’t take it as sympathy or a compliment. Why? Because where I come from, it’s a euphemism meant as an insult.
Here’s another example: “I didn’t buy a used car. I bought a pre-owned car.”
Repetitions in writing, whether they’re repeated words, phrases, or clauses, aren’t always bad. It depends on why the writer did it. Some of history’s greatest writers and speakers used this technique, anaphora, to good effect.
So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania… (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream,” August 28, 1963)
Litotes are negative expressions that mean its opposite—something positive.
You’ll be sorry you didn’t eat my wife’s pound cake.
Meaning: You’ll regret you didn’t eat it because the cake was delicious.
This ends my series on figures of speech. I hope you’ll use them to spice up your writing.
McClanahan, Rebecca. Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 1999.