Thursday, July 8, 2010

Witty Descriptive Writing

by Anita Mae Draper

Back in April 2009, I wrote a post on using rhetorical devices to jazz up your writing. Metaphors and similes are one of the most effective ways to do this. The Language Portal of Canada says ‘Metaphors and similes are figures of speech that you use to add colour and richness to your writing.’ (They even have a quiz.)

At one of the writing workshops I’ve attended, the instructor said she’s in the habit of flagging original writing in a book and that most books won’t have any more than a few flags. She then held up a book riddled with post-it flags. That conference was almost 3 yrs ago and I’ve always wondered if I’d ever find such a book. Or should I say… would I recognize such a book.

As of yesterday, I can tell you that yes, I have found and did recognize a book filled with so many original similes and metaphors, I started flagging them.

And so today, I’m going to entertain you with quotes from Kim Vogel Sawyer's historical romance, A Hopeful Heart, which has captured my attention with Kim’s witty, descriptive writing.

Kim's Similes:

  • “…they sat as quiet as scarecrows in a garden…” 
  • “Paralee’s cheeks twitched as if a bumble fought for release from her mouth.” 
  • “Just ‘cause the others’ve agreed don’t mean you need to get swept along like a twig in the creek.” 
  • “You look as worn out as an old man’s slippers.”
  •  “…the man had as much chance as a wax cat in a burning barn…”

Kim's Metaphors and Descriptive Writing:

  • “…she’d begun winging brief prayers skyward…”
  • “She clacked her jaw shut.”
  • “Flashes of lightning turned the clouds into Chinese lanterns.”
  • “She squatted, her skirts mushrooming around her.”
  • “Impatience tried to capture him…”
  • “A white streak of flour decorated her left cheek.”
  • “You said when a woman loves a man, her heart feels as though it would soar out of her chest. But, my heart has turned into a lump of clay. It’s heavy and dull, and it will never soar.”
  • “She battered her eyelashes and tittered.”
  • “I’m an utter failure at milking.”
  • “She wilted with relief.”
  • “His softy worded query seemed to float across the room and coil itself around her with a blanketing warmth.”

 A recurring topic here at Prairie Chicks is the need to define a character by their speech patterns and idioms. A Hopeful Heart is an excellent example of this. For reasons you’ll find in the book, the heroine, Tressa, has ‘buried her affluent background’. She dresses like a normal working girl, but when her emotions are engaged, she forgets to talk like one and ends up as ‘high-falutin’ and ‘high and mighty’. Here are some of the things Tressa has said which raised eyebrows:

  • “He was kind enough to see to my wound, and that is all that has transpired. I shall not allow you to malign our characters with lewd and fallacious accusations.” 
  • “I merely attempted to remain committed to the tasks at hand rather than allowing one of the men to distract me from my duties.” 
  • “I shall bow to whatever decision you make . . . If I’m to be completely truthful with you, Mrs. Wyatt, this past week has proved enlightening. I do feel adequately prepared to take on the responsibilities of housekeeping. I am not as certain I’m ready to be a wife, in every s-sense of the word.”

In another instance, Tressa is asked what’s ailing her and the conversation goes like this:
Tressa: “Just feeling . . . pensive, I suppose.”
Mrs. Wyatt: “Pensive? . . . What’n dried beans is pensive?”

After someone takes a shot at her, the hero, Abel, knows Tressa’s returning to normal when she says, “Well, he nearly frightened me to death. Hunters should exercise greater consideration when there are people nearby.

Poor Tressa. She tried so hard to fit in. But her speech made for some memorable moments.

When was the last time you were so enthralled with a book, you flagged the parts that caught your attention?



Joanne Brothwell said...

Great post, Anita,
I love these examples, they really give you a sensory experience. My two fave's are:

"She clacked her jaw shut." (OUCH!)
"Her skirts mushroomed around her." (Lovely!)

I tried to fill my ms with original similes and metaphors, but doing this was one of the hardest things about writing. My mind always goes straight to cliche's, unfortunately! There were many, many moments of staring off into space trying to dig up something original!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I can't say I've ever flagged a book with post-its. Usually if I find a book I love with original turns of phrase, I reread it, hoping some it rubs off on me.

I have to agree with Joanne about cliches. I find that my mind goes straight to those worn out phrases as well. Worse, I don't always recognize that I've done it until a critique partner points it out. Ouch! So if Kim Sawyer Vogel has come up with interesting language and original similes and metaphors, my hat goes off to her!

I especially like the way Tressa talks. It definitely marks her as different from the other people in the story, and tells us quite a bit about her character.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Joanne, I hear you on trying to write original similes and metaphors. I even googled for sites to check on the originality of phrases and found these 2 sites:

- idiom connection seems to list almost every phrase known

- Colorwize
actually has some wonderful lesser-known examples of similes and metaphors. It's worth a peek even with all the advertising.

Thanks, Joanne.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, my face is red. When you said Kim Sawyer Vogel, I flicked over to my post and (aghast) I wrote her name wrong.

Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit! (Not original but I like the saying - LOL)

My apologies to Kim Vogel Sawyer. I've changed the post to reflect the correct order of her names. Thank you, Jana, for repeating Kim's name.

I'd never thought of flagging a book either until I attended that workshop. Actually, I awoke with the thought that I should mention which book the instructor held up... it was one of Camy Tang's. Later on, she held up another with almost as many tags authored by James Scott Bell. (yes, I've confirmed the order of his name. sigh)

Appreciate your comment, Jana.

Kim Vogel Sawyer said...

Anita, all the little flags sticking out of the book tickles me! I wish I'd thought of that--so often I read something and want to read it again, but then I can't find it. Sticky notes, where are you??? LOL Thanks so much for featuring the book! (And I didn't notice if my name was in the wrong about observant! lol)

Janet said...

Wow - what an amazing list of innovation and creativity! Like Joanne and Jana, I tend to find the cliche - and then can't find anything that works just as well. An area of my writing I'm definitely aware needs improvement.

I also love highlighting wonderful language in a book - but I tend to do it with an actual highlighter or underline with a pencil (when it's my book, of course). Sticky notes - don't give me yet another reason to go out and buy more ;)

Great post, Anita - and a great reminder for all of us to think outside the box (see, cliche).

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Kim, you probably looked after I fixed it. :)

Thanks for stopping in. Do you guest blog? We'd love for you to tell us how you come up with those jewels.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Janet, I've never had the guts to underline in an actual book. So the sticky flags were a compromise. And actually, one of the Chicks - you maybe? - said they had sticky notes all over the place and it was one of their best tools in their writer's kit. At the time, I didn't use sticky notes.

Now, I keep these little flags near where I'm reading but until this book, I'd only flagged errors.

Okay, I just had a thought... I take that back about underlining in a book because my Bible has red underlines on almost every page. Then, a couple years ago, I switched to yellow highlighter but it's hard to find one that won't bleed through the thin onion skin. Hmmm... sticky flags... I wonder if it's 'tender' enough for Bible pages...

The bonus with the flags, of course, is that they stick out whereas underlining or highlighting won't show up until you flip the pages or mark them down. The flags are so much easier.


Debra E Marvin said...

Thanks for sharing Kim's beautiful descriptions.

My all time favorite was by LaVyrle Spencer when she described the honking of geese over head as the sound of a nail being pulled out of wood. I was so impressed I never forgot that.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Deb, I love LaVyrle Spencer's books. I don't remember any geese, but then, I haven't read them all.

Thanks for stopping by.


Liz Fichera said...

"You said when a woman loves a man, her heart feels as though it would soar out of her chest. But, my heart has turned into a lump of clay. It’s heavy and dull, and it will never soar.”

Love that!