Spice Up Your Writing: Four More Ways to Do It

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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.”


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1963


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.

Spice Up Your Writing: Alliteration, Assonance, and Onomatopoeia

Poets often use alliteration and assonance, but prose writers use these figures of speech too. I enjoy using them so much that I have to watch myself because I tend to use them too much.

Definition of Alliteration

The repetition of a word’s initial consonant sound or syllable.


Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.

Definition of Assonance

The repetition of vowel sounds in words.

There was a Young Lady of Niger

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

In this limerick, attributed to William Cosmo Monkhouse (1840-1901), the “I” sound is repeated.

Reasons For Using Alliteration and Assonance

  • To create rhythm and music in our prose.
  • To set the mood.

Example of Mood

Look at the first line of Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.” He repeats the “d” sound and the “h” sound.

It was a dark and soundless day near the end of the year, and clouds were hanging low in the  heavens.



Onomatopoeias imitate sounds to the things they refer to. Sometimes they’re called figures of sound instead of a figure of speech. They’re good to use as a sensory detail, which helps bring our prose to life.  


Buzz, hiss, chug, puff

The train puffed and chugged up the steep track.

The coffee kettle hissed.

Spice Up Your Writing: Similes and Personification


Although not as strong as metaphors, similes are great ways to follow that time-tested literary maxim: show, don’t tell. They’re easily identified by the words like or as.


A simile compares two unlike things that have one thing in common.


Her heart fluttered like a butterfly.

His excitement soared as high as the moon.


  • Don’t use a simile that’s a cliché. Clichés are ineffective.

Cliché: Cindy was as busy as a bee.

Cindy was as busy as a hamster running on her exercise wheel.

  • Don’t use a simile where no comparison exists.

Bob flexed his biceps like spaghetti.

Be Original

The first similes that come to mind are usually cliché because we hear them all the time. Go ahead and write them in the first draft, if you need to, and then in your revision work on creating a fresh image, that is, something original.


Personification is a figure of speech that’s easy to use, helps create mood, and makes our writing more vivid.


Personification is a literary device that gives human attributes to non-human things.


Flames danced in the fireplace.

Darkness slipped into my room.


  • Don’t overdo personification.
  • Use personification strategically, in places where you can create atmosphere and mood.
  • Keep your personifications fresh/original. In other words, be creative with them.

More on figures of speech next week.

Spice Up Your Writing, Metaphors

Robert Frost (1874-1963), Author of “The Runaway”

Metaphors are the strongest of all the figures of speech, and as we’ll see in this post, there are several types. If well written, they’ll evoke emotion in our readers and draw them deeper into our stories.


A metaphor compares two different things, saying one thing (or person or place) is something else.


John is a ticking time bomb.

John is not a literal time bomb, but the time bomb image tells us he has a fierce temper and may even need to take an anger management class.

Analysis of a Metaphor

A metaphor contains two parts: the tenor, and the vehicle.

John is a ticking time bomb.

Tenor: John, because he’s the subject of the metaphor.

Vehicle: Time bomb, because it’s the metaphor’s image.

Types of Metaphors

Absolute Metaphor


The tenor has no connection with the vehicle.


John is a ticking time bomb.

No connection exists between John and the time bomb. In other words, he won’t literally explode. John’s metaphorical explosion, however, might build into a fit of rage. The connection exists between John’s rage and the bomb, not John and the bomb.

Extended Metaphor


These metaphors extend for longer periods in a sentence, paragraph, or page by using two or more parallels between two unlike things. They’re often used in poetry.


Robert Frost’s poem, “The Runaway.”

The poem is copyrighted, so visit this link to read it: The Runaway by Robert Frost | Poetry Foundation

The Metaphor: a horse. Frost uses a horse fearful of his first snow to represent a child who’s run away from home with no one to comfort him.

Mixed Metaphor



A mixed metaphor combines two or more metaphors that have no logical connection to each other.


Don’t count your chickens before they hatch and swim away.

Chickens hatch, but they don’t swim. Thus, I mixed two unconnected images—chickens and fish.

Next Week: Similes

Spice Up Your Writing, Figures of Speech, An Introduction

Use figures of speech in our writing, but don’t overdo them lest they conceal the story from readers.


A figure of speech is a literary device that enhances our writing but is not to be taken literally. It can be used to create a special effect, create emotion and make our writing more visual.

Figures of Speech, A List










Although there are other figures of speech, we’ll study the ones I listed above in future posts.

Next week: Metaphors and Similes

Some Copyright Basics

As authors, we need to become familiar with the basics of copyright and copyright law. In this blog, I share a few things regarding it, but I encourage authors to study and research it for themselves as well.

Why Register A Copyright?

The Law: the moment a work is in fixed form, it is copyrighted under the law. So, why register a copyright with the copyright office? Here are two reasons.

  • It provides proof in a court of law that you are the owner in case someone infringes on your copyright. The Copyright Office provides a Certificate of Registration and a Registration Number indicating the effective date of registration for each copyrighted work.
  • You cannot file a lawsuit for infringement in federal court if your work isn’t registered. Without registration, it’s more difficult to prove ownership. The law gives authors three months to register after publication, or else they must be registered before the first infringement occurs.
  • Your work will be listed in the Library of Congress.

For details on how to register your copyright, download Circular 2, “Copyright Registration.” See links at end of this blog.

Mandatory Deposit: It’s the Law

Although authors don’t have to register their work with the copyright office, the law requires them to deposit a required number of copies of their work with the office. If an author registers his/her work, they will meet this requirement because depositing their published work is part of the registration process.

For more information, download Circular 7D, “Mandatory Deposit of Copies or Phonograph Records for the Library of Congress.” See links at end of this blog.

Infringement & Plagiarism


Ideas cannot be copyrighted. After all, how many Civil War novels are out there? How many historical romances with similar plots? No plot is truly original but the story’s expression, the way the author writes it, must be the author’s original work.

For example, if I create a character, say an army scout just like Hondo Lane in Louis L’Amour’s novel Hondo, I’ve infringed on his copyright. I can write a Western using an army scout as the main character, but my scout must be unique to me— how I depict/express him.


Plagiarism is “literary theft.” It’s presenting someone else’s work as your own.

What Are Some Plagiarisms?

  • Copying another author’s work word-for-word and using it as your own.
  • Paraphrasing another person’s words and ideas without crediting the source.
  • Authors plagiarize themselves when they use one of their previously published works in a current work and don’t cite it.

The above information on plagiarism comes from the MLA Handbook, Eighth Edition. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2016. I recommend every author get a copy of this book, especially those who write nonfiction.

I recommend going to the copyright office’s website, download the circulars that apply, then read and study them. As authors, we need to at least become familiar with its basics.

Recommended Links

Circulars | U.S. Copyright Office

Copyright Protection – Why Should You Register Copyrights? – Gerben Law Firm

Top 10 Reasons You Should Register Your Copyright – FindLaw

Recommended Book

MLA Handbook, Eighth Edition. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2016.

Be Original: Find Your Literary Voice

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. – C. S. Lewis

A Definition

What is literary voice? The term isn’t easily defined. Some writers write fast-paced stories, whereas other writers’ stories move at a slower pace, with long sentences and paragraphs. A writer’s literary voice is unique—original— and sets writers apart from other writers.

Two Examples

Let’s look at two excellent examples of literary voice. Our first one comes from Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839). He writes in a dark, gloomy voice.

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible.

Our second example comes from William Faulkner’s famous short story, “The Bear” (1942). He writes in a stream of consciousness, using long sentences and other devices to imitate the natural thought processes we use.

He was ten. But it had already begun, long before that day when at last he wrote his age in two figures and he saw for the first time the camp and Major de Spain and old General Compson and the others spent two weeks each November and two weeks again each June. He had already inherited then, without having seen it, the tremendous bear with one trap-ruined foot which, in an area almost a hundred miles deep, had earned itself a name, a definite designation like a living man.

Developing Your Literary Voice

Each writer develops his/her own voice through lots of writing and practice. As we grow in our craft, we’ll discover our own unique voice that sets us apart from others. We must choose our words carefully (diction) and arrange them in grammatically correct ways(syntax) to express our thoughts in a voice unique to us.

Punctuation also plays a role. If we hear a pause in our prose, use either a period, semi-colon, or comma. Which mark we use depends on the pause’s length, something we’ll discuss later.

Things to Avoid

  • Monotonous writing. Monotonous writing has no personality. To give it personality, mix long sentences with short sentences, long paragraphs with short paragraphs, and vary different types of sentences within a paragraph. .
  • Wordiness. When writing sentences, whether they’re long or short, be sure every word used contributes to the sentence’s clarity. That is, be concise. This means getting rid of all unnecessary word(s): cut the clutter.

Have you found your literary voice? If not, keep on writing and eventually, you will.

Writing a Back Flash

Back flashes don't affect a story's forward movement. They keep readers in the present while revealing something about a character and a past event that's affected him/her

Back flashes don’t affect a story’s forward movement. They keep readers in the present while revealing something about a character and a past event that’s affected him or her.

A back flash provides information about a character’s past either through dialogue or the character’s thoughts. It’s the best option for writers when they want to reveal something about a character’s past. Be careful not to write long back flashes, however. Instead, include snippets of information about a character’s past as the story progresses.

Back Flash in Thoughts

When Walter saw the accident on the road up ahead, a pain stabbed his heart. As he lifted his foot off the gas pedal, he pointed at it. His friend and passenger, James, stared at the scene’s police cars and ambulance.

            “Amelia,” Walter muttered.

            “Amelia?” James said. “Oh, yes. I remember.”

            Walter passed the accident in silence. It happened two years ago. Amelia Easterling and he were engaged, and then that horrible accident happened at the movie theater. He’d hit a large van backing out of its parking space. The crash killed her instantly. Oh, how he missed her!

            He pulled into a grocery store’s parking lot. He had to get his mind on other things. “Let’s get our soda and chips fast.”

            James slammed the car door behind him. “Right, Walter. I’m hungry.”

Back Flash in Dialogue

Walter nudged his friend James when they entered the grocery store. “Hey, look over yonder. That pretty lady examining the oranges.”

            James halted near the cash registers. “Yeah. She looks sorta like Amelia. I’m glad you’ve recovered from that accident you had. It wasn’t your fault.”

            “We were arguing at the time, James,” Walter said. “I was driving, so it was my fault. I should’ve been paying better attention to the traffic. She’d still be alive if I’d been doing that.”

            James smiled at the lady as she headed for the vegetables. “Let’s go introduce ourselves.”

            Walter shrugged. “Why not?”


Writing a Flashback

Some authors don’t use flashbacks in their stories while others do. Although flashbacks present certain problems, if written wisely and at the right points in your story, they can be useful.

Definition of a Flashback

A flashback is a scene written in the present that looks back on a past event.

Why Use a Flashback

Flashbacks deepen our characters, explaining their behaviors and motivations. This is one of many good reasons for writing a biography for the main characters.

Two Problems with Flashbacks

  • If used in an opening chapter, it tells a story before the novel’s real story begins. This causes the book to start slow.
  • Flashbacks used in the middle of a book interrupt the story and slows down its pace.

Rules for Flashbacks

The flashback must be relevant to a story and not just “thrown in.”

Flashbacks should be written in the present, like a scene happening now.

General rule: Don’t write a flashback until the story’s first 50 pages. However, like all rules, this one can be broken if the writer has a good reason for doing it. See the next rule.

Only use flashbacks when you have a good reason. Does the flashback contribute to understanding a character and that character’s motivation? Will it add something to the plot? If not, don’t use it.

Don’t write an information dump. Write is as a scene: dialogue, action, and conflict.

Get in and out of the flashback seamlessly. Write it in such a way that readers don’t notice a transition from past to present.

Sir Walter Scott, creator of the historical fiction genre

Example of a Flashback

Walter slowed his car when he spotted the accident on the road ahead. A Ford Mustang was on fire. Two police cars, an ambulance … a fire truck squealed past him, siren blaring. Its siren sent shudders through him, like he shuddered on that fateful day years ago when he was driving his girlfriend, Amelia, to a movie.

“I don’t want to see Rocky,” she said.  

“Well, I do,” Walter said.

“You don’t love me.” Amelia huffed and glared straight ahead. “You’re not taking me to see Freaky Friday.”

“Dumb movie. Waste of money.”

“Humph. How would you know?” She stuck a piece of chewing gum in her mouth. She often chewed gum when she was mad.

Walter accelerated into the theater’s parking lot as their arguing reached a fever pitch. “All right. We’ll go to that stupid flick.” Irritated, he accelerated and smashed into a large van backing out of a parking space. Crunched his car on Amelia’s side. His engine exploded. He managed to climb out and struggled to help her while a witness called 9-1-1.

As police cars squealed onto the scene, their sirens blaring, Amelia died while flames swallowed his car.

Up ahead, the fire truck silenced its siren as it stopped at the accident. Walter drove past, uttering a prayer for those who were injured while he wept for Amelia.

Three Tips for Smooth Flashbacks

Sensory Detail: Use a sensory detail to get in and out of flashbacks. In my example, I used the detail, hearing.  The fire truck’s siren prompted Walter’s tragic memory. Then, to get out of his flashback, I again referred to the fire truck’s siren in the last sentence ashe drives past the accident.

Transitional Words: These also help writers get in and out of a flashback. For example, words such as recall, remember, etc. For example: When Walter heard the fire truck’s siren., he remembered that fateful day when … Then move into the flashback scene.

Had: James Scott Bell, in his book Plot & Structure, recommends using had no more than two times to get into a flashback scene, but do not use this word in the scene itself.

Example of Using Had

Walter slowed his car when he spotted the accident on the road ahead. A Ford Mustang was on fire. Two police cars, an ambulance…a fire truck squealed past him, siren blaring. Its siren sent shudders through him, like it had on that fateful day years ago when he and his girlfriend, Amelia, were on their way to a movie….

Next week, the back flash.


Bell, James Scott. Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure, Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2004.

How to Write a Flashback Scene: 7 Key Steps | Now Novel

How to Write a Flashback | Advanced Fiction Writing

What My Cat Taught Me

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And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight (Numbers 13:33, KJV).

Behind my childhood home runs an alley. From this alley, stray cats often wandered onto our property where my mother always fed them. Alley cats they were, in the strictest sense, so it’s no wonder that I adopted a stray who wandered onto my lawn in Kenner, Louisiana.

A beautiful gray kitty with a gentle temperament, she was the perfect pet. I named her Koshka, Russian for a female cat, I’d learned in my college’s Russian class. One day, though, a neighbor looked down at her and said to me, “Your cat looks pregnant.”

Pregnant! The word gripped my throat. That was the last thing I needed. I could afford Koshka, but care for a litter of kittens? Oh, no! For several days, I studied Koshka’s swollen belly. Mews and meows of imaginary kittens wreaked havoc on my brain’s “movie screen.” What would happen after she gave birth? Happen? To her? To her kittens? What about me? My bank account? My money?

Every day, visions of dwindling finances dominated my concerns. Anxieties intensified. I wanted to scream: “Koshka, girl, why are you doing this to me?”

Finally, I took her to the veterinarian to verify her pregnancy.

After his examination, he announced the verdict. “She’s not pregnant. She’s been spayed. She’s just fat.”

Whew! All my nervous tension broke at his announcement. Peace swept over and through me like a gurgling stream.

But isn’t this what the enemy does to us if we let him? After Moses’ twelves spies returned from scouting out Canaan, panic seized ten of them. They couldn’t take the land. Giants were there, “and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” First Satan planted doubt in their minds, then faithlessness supplanted faith, and finally, an overactive imagination produced an overwhelming terror. Because they believed what they saw and listened to the enemy’s lie, they missed God’s blessing.

Not so, two other spies, Caleb and Joshua. God told them He’d given them the land, and they believed it. They listened to His word. When the day finally arrived, they marched into the Promised Land, the last survivors of Moses’ generation.

Because I listened to the authority regarding Koshka, I gained peace of mind. Likewise, when we listen to and heed God’s authority, His Word, the Lord will lead us to victory through every battle just as He did Caleb and Joshua.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I believe Your Word, Your holy Scriptures, the only authority for how I live my life. Thank You for it, and for the peace You give me when I listen to and obey You. May I continue heeding Your guidance. Help me to ignore the enemy’s lies. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Brief Reflection
When we listen to Satan’s negative thoughts, we allow him to steal our faith. Do we believe God’s promises and walk in faith like Caleb and Joshua?

Passages for Study
John 8:33-47
John 6:34-4

This excerpt is taken from Reflections of a Southern Boy: Devotions from the Deep South. Published by Ashland Park Books, it is available at amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle. To purchase a copy, visit the Bookstore page on this site.
All Rights Reserved.
Copyright 2018 by John “Jack” M. Cunningham, Jr.