Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Hyperbole

There are many ways to make writing resonate. They all often employ a simile or metaphor.

Here are some ways to make action resonate:
  • Invoke images of some past event that occurred in the same place.
  • Jump-cut between scenes happening simultaneously.
  • Zoom out or in to make an image resonate like the first photos of Earth from outer space did.
Those are ideal ways to make writing resonate, because they make the story itself resonate. But there are devices you can use as well.

Devices that make writing resonate:
  • hyperbole
  • name dropping
  • reference to religion / invoking authority
  • invoking death
  • titling the parts or chapters of a book
  • a bold, surprising opening conclusion
  • aphorisms and epigraphs
Let's consider these tricks of the trade. First, hyperbole.

Perhaps the most common means of achieving resonance is through extravagant exaggeration or enlargement. When not meant to deceive, we call it hyperbole. People use this device in everyday speech. For example: People with no respect for others' privacy extend the borders of their own to the outer limits of deep space.

The cathedrals of Europe and the extravagant settings that surround monarchs and popes are a study in hyperbole to resonate with awesome grandeur. Hence these relics of past power display opulence and grandiosity that strikes us as bawdy today.

Though we aren't nearly so extravagant, the trick hasn't gone out of style. The Queen used to visit the far-flung parts of the British Empire in the H.M.S. Brittania, which was deliberately designed to dwarf every other ship in sight and fill those who saw her with awe at her grandeur. Similarly, Air Force One was designed under President Kennedy to impress. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is often asked whether she was treated with due respect by foreign leaders, particularly those of male-dominated Moslem states. And she's fond of replying that her sex was no problem abroad, because when that great big sleek and beautiful Air Force One lands anywhere on this planet, dwarfing everything in sight, with "The United States of America" blazoned across it, the American Secretary of State seems awesome and gets immediate respect — plus all the attention, no matter who else is there. Resonance.

Michelangelo used hyperbole to achieve resonance, too. His Piéta and the statue of David are huge, affecting one the same way in their presence.

Here's an example of hyperbole from a Catholic who used it to describe her experience of entering St. Peter's Basilica for the first time: "The first thing that strikes you about the place is the enormity of it. You could fly a plane in there!"

Obviously she didn't mean that literally — at least not the part about the plane. In fact, hyperbole is never meant literally. So, be sure to overdo it enough that the reader can tell you don't mean an exaggeration literally. Otherwise it isn't hyperbole, it's just a lie.

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1 Comments:

Blogger stephanie e. wonka said...

Hi, Kathy,

I am a short fiction writer and a graduate student at the University of South Alabama.

I discovered your blog during a Google search. I find many of your articles quite interesting, so I have subscribed to your posts.

Just wanted to let you know I'm reading!

Stephanie

http://mother-wendy.blogspot.com

8:49 PM  

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