Friday, 11 February 2011

Writing with Metaphor and Simile but not too much Hyperbole

O.K.  I couldn’t resist using the rhyme (as long as you pronounce simile and hyperbole correctly).  It’s a cheap attention-getting device but sometimes it works great. 

 So, what is hyperbole?  It’s when you use over-the-top extravagant exaggeration that, when it comes right down to it, is hard to believe.  You’ll recognize it when writers throw in a string of adjectives and adverbs to spruce up copy when describing something.  Unfortunately, it only succeeds in turning people off or making them suspicious.  It’s like the used car salesman yelling at you from the TV.  We either mute him or walk away.  Using too much fluff will cause your readers’ eyes to glaze over and with a simple click of the mouse, they could be gone forever!

 The danger in using language that is wildly extreme is that you have to be ready to defend and prove the claim you’re making.  On the other hand, using metaphors and similes helps paint a picture for the reader so they can visualize what you’re trying to get across.  A simile is a comparison of unlike things using “like” and “as” where a metaphor is using a word that denotes one thing instead of another suggesting a likeness between them.  We often call it a “figure of speech.”

Take for example the metaphor, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”  I know it’s a cliché, but it illustrates the point nicely.  There aren’t really furry creatures falling out of the sky but it makes you imagine torrential rain coming down and streets flooding.  “Driving a Ferrari is like blasting off in a rocket” is an example of a simile. 
When using this writing technique, try to be original.  Don’t use metaphors that have already been used over and over again.  Come up with some fresh ones.  That’s what separates the “wheat from the chaff.”  (Sometimes I like to break my own rules just to make a point).

I can think of hundreds of others but I’m trying to keep this blog post shorter than usual.  I am having a slight disagreement with a friend and fellow blogger on how long and substantive a blog should be.  Her vote is to keep it short (one or two paragraphs).  I believe you should make it long enough to say something of value.  Have I gone on too long?  Is this of any value at all?  Feedback is welcome!  

 So, instead of me adding more sample metaphors and similes please add your favorite in the comment section.  Or, add a few that you’re sick and tired of hearing.  

 If you do want more, I give free advice through my website.  Click here and send me a note.  I’d love to  hear from you.


Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Book Review: Brilliant Business Writing - How to inspire, engage and persuade through words

I thought I would change it up a little bit since I promised to review small business resources as well so this month we’ll take a look at Brilliant Business Writing by Neil Taylor.  I would like to start off by saying it is brilliant because he gives a lot of advice that I give in my workshops myself and use on a daily basis with my writing projects! 

All kidding aside, I enjoyed Taylor’s tongue in cheek, humorous approach to a sometimes very dry subject.  Most of us who call writing our passion and vocation can devour (and enjoy) books on writing that others would find extremely dull.  I would say that Brilliant Business Writing is a resource for any level of writer.  A novice writer will probably pick it up and read it cover to cover in one sitting.  The more veteran writer may keep it on the desk and refer to it periodically over a month or so and read a few pages at a time while waiting for large documents to download or for the computer to boot up (as I did).  I found myself nodding and grinning as Taylor gave examples of language use blunders he’s come across in his career.

In the first pages of the book he suggests that the reader “think of it like circuit training:  you’ll be gradually building up your linguistic muscle.”  I love this metaphor!  He goes on to say that good business writing should be clear and concise but you should inject stories, rhythm and metaphor to keep it from being boring.  He gives great analogies like suggesting that you approach your writing like an actor in a play.  An actor can show up, say their lines accurately and on cue and walk through the right doors but if they’re not lively and engaging they won’t be winning any Tony Awards.  “Writing is a presentation you’re not in the room to deliver,” says Taylor.

He has a whole chapter on “Myth Busting” and my favorite chapter is called “Don’t Hedge.”  Basically, the message is all about not dancing around bad news.  He recommends a straight forward approach and saying it like it is.

Every chapter is spotted with “Brilliant Tips” or little tidbits of information to get you thinking like “Check what you write by reading it aloud.”  I agree that this is a great proofreading strategy and works beautifully to catch awkward sentences and other errors.

Improving your writing requires lots of practice and often reminding yourself of good, basic writing habits and strategies to grab and keep an audience.  At the end of the book Taylor says, “Keep this on your desk and on a slow day you’ll be able to dip in for a linguistic top-up.”  Not a bad idea, really.