Monday, April 25, 2011

Tricks of the Trade- Give Sentences Punch

The following is taken from my writing seminar manual:

Writers have on their palettes some unique figures of speech that add dazzle to sentences and turn the ordinary into the unique. Consider the following when you are writing your next piece.

Hyperbole – an extreme exaggeration. I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. The spider was the size of a basketball.

Irony – an expression that is the exact opposite of what you mean. Of course, I’ll have time to do that. I’m only working seventy hours this week, and it’s my turn to cook supper, do the dishes, and clean the house. Irony lacks the hurtful element of sarcasm and can make a point that might be missed if stated another way.

Metonymy – substituting one name for another. The press was invited. (Reporters were invited.) The White House had no comment on the situation. (The President had no comment…) The F.B.I. came to my front door. (Someone from the F.B.I. came to my door.)

Metaphor – says something is something else. His eyes were empty windows. She’s a gem. That man is a pig.

Onomatopoeia – a word that expresses the sound of something. Bees buzz. Wind whistles. Snakes hiss.

Paradox – an apparent contradiction that states a subtle truth. He works harder at not working than anybody I know. She can’t carry a tune, but she sang a whole score when the police questioned her.

Personification – attributing living qualities to inanimate objects. The engine hummed a sweet song. His expression spoke volumes. The raging river dared us to cross it.

Simile – says something is like something else. The clear night sky sparkled like diamond dust on black velvet. Although he’d just eaten lunch, he gobbled down the hamburger like a starving dog.

These figures of speech add zest to our stories and articles, painting word pictures for the reader that make our works come to life and take on personality. Use them sparingly for greatest effectiveness, but do use them. Consider this too: when we make words take on new faces by stretching their meanings, we add strength and imagery to our works, turning the black and white printed page into a colorful art form.

What techniques do you use to hook your readers with spectacular prose or poetry?


Linda Lane believes that teaching writers to write well can solve many of the major problems that plague today's publishing industry. She can be reached at

Bookmark and Share


  1. Great post! Thanks for putting all these different types of figurative language together in such a clear way!


  2. Yes, a handy compendium, Linda. Thanks!

    Especially in highly charged passages, understatement can add a poetic charge and speak volumes. Such as at a viewing, when looking at the body of a good friend dressed formally:

    "She would have preferred her jeans."

  3. Ah, labels -- maybe you know the term for repeating something 3 or 4 times for emphasis. It starts with an "a" but that's never enough to go on when I try to look it up!

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  4. Thanks for this clear reminder of some of the arrows we have in our quiver!

  5. Alliteration is the repetition of the same sound (usually a consonant) at the beginning of a sentence or line of poetry. (Peter Piper picked a peck of pickle peppers.) However, I don't know the term you're referring to that indicates repetition of the entire word, Terry. Anyone have an idea about this?

  6. Terry, are you thinking of the word "anaphora"?

    I looked online for "repetition for emphasis," and this term came up.

  7. Terry, are you referring to the rule of three? Here is a blog that has some information about that.

    But I suspect that is not quite what you are looking for. Hope someone can solve this mystery. LOL

  8. Can't recall using paradox, though I probably have at some point without realising it, the rest ... definitely.

  9. This was reminding me of high school for a bit, but you're absolutely correct in how important these spices are to have around. Thanks for posting this, as I'm putting these tips to use in my writing right away!

  10. This post would make Shakespeare blush.

  11. My favorite thing is to twist a metaphor or simile. When I'm in edit more, I've been known to work one for a half hour to get that twist just right.

    So how would you twist a Mona Lisa smile?

  12. I use metonymy the most to avoid having pet words that I overuse. Runners up are hyperboles, ironies, and similes.

    Thanks for labeling these. I remember how a lot of them work, but I feel stupid that I can't remember their names, most especially when I read extremely technical writing blogs.

  13. Great and informative list. I will definitely save this one.

  14. I don't think this is what you had in mind, Ane, but I couldn't resist sending it.

    The dog's wagging tail and Mona Lisa smile welcomed me onto the porch, and then he bit me.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...