Spice Up Your Writing: Four More Ways to Do It

Photo by Marta Branco on Pexels.com

Hyperbole

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?

Definition

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.

Examples

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.

Euphemism

“Well, bless your heart.”

Definition

Euphemisms express politeness when the opposite is intended.

Examples

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.”

Anaphora

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

Definition

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.

Example

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

Litotes are negative expressions that mean its opposite—something positive.

Example

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.

Bibliography

McClanahan, Rebecca. Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 1999.

Spice Up Your Writing: Similes and Personification

Similes

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.

Definition

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

Examples

Her heart fluttered like a butterfly.

His excitement soared as high as the moon.

Cautions

  • 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

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

Definition

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

Examples

Flames danced in the fireplace.

Darkness slipped into my room.

Cautions

  • 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.

Metaphors, Part One, Anatomy of a Metaphor

Figures of speech add spice to our writing. And they’re fun to write. What is a figure of speech? It’s wording something in such a way that it shouldn’t be taken literally. For example:

John is a ticking time bomb.

John isn’t literally a ticking time bomb, but metaphorically he is if he’s about to “explode with rage.”  

Metaphors are the strongest of all figures of speech, and they come in many types. If they’re written well, they’ll draw us deeper into our story because they’ll touch our emotions.



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

Using our above example, let’s analyze a metaphor. It consists of two parts, the tenor and the vehicle. These terms were coined by famous English poet and rhetorician, I.A. Richards (1893-1979), in his work The Philosophy of Rhetoric.

John is a ticking time bomb.

Here, John is the tenor: the subject of the metaphor. And he’s compared to the vehicle, time bomb: the metaphor’s image.

We’ll delve deeper into metaphors next week.