Saturday, March 31, 2012

Word Play

“Can bees fly in the rain? Not without their little yellow jackets!”

--sign seen on local business

Hee hee hee! This really made me laugh when I  saw it. It’s a clever play on words.

Writers need to come up with original phrasing in order that their prose won’t be trite or a repetition of everything that’s come before. Yet it’s a delicate balance between originality and reaching, painfully, too far. Some of my students are so in love with similes and metaphors that they weaken their writing with strained analogies.

I just heard a bit of a show on NPR talking about Shakespeare and all the original words and phrases he invented in his work. Check it out here:

Who’d have thought one man could so affect the English language? He even came up with the beginning of that classic joke: “Knock, knock!” “Who’s there?”

While we can’t imagine how these new phrases must have sounded to Shakespeare’s audiences—did they say, “How clever!” or “What the heck does that mean?”—we can be careful to be sure our own prose says what we mean without being too flowery or too obtuse.

To practice, take a standard saying like “as sweet as pie” or “as mad as a wet hen.” Remove the pie or wet hen and come up with your own variation. Example:

As sweet as honey.

As sweet as a baby’s smile.

As sweet as a first kiss.

And, there’s no need to keep the intent or meaning of the original phrase. Try these variations:

As sweet as a tax collector.

As sweet as a dentist’s drill.

As sweet as a tornado.

Just be sure you don’t overdo it with too much description, or comparisons that everyone might not recognize:

As sweet as iced tea with six tablespoons of sugar.

As sweet as an entire pound package of Oreos.

As sweet as my mother.

Have someone else read your prose and let you know how the metaphors and similes work for him or her. Remember, you don’t have to be Shakespeare…but it’s a worth goal to aspire to.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


My short story collection, MIRROR IMAGES, is free today at Amazon in Kindle format:

Check it out! And if you like it, I hope you’ll consider posting a review.