Adding Punch to Your Writing
And I don’t mean of the alcoholic variety. Although sometimes that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, would it? No, I am talking about adding spice, pizzazz, a certain something that makes the reader say, “Ah, that was good!”
Think about it. Haven’t you ever picked up a piece of writing, read it and thought, “Now that person has got it.” Just what is that elusive it? Can be lots of things, right? Pacing, characterization, mood, tone, structure –we could go on and on about what makes writing good. But since I have only a page, I am going to limit my “punchiness” to using imagery and figurative language.
Imagery and figurative language – ah, such English teachery words. Okay, I am a former English teacher (no, don’t stop reading yet.) I will try to make this painless. Plus, YOU will actually put this to use, unlike most my former students. Imagery, in essence, is using words to create a mental picture in the reader’s mind. Think five senses – you’ve heard plenty of harping on that from your critique group, right? Um, they are correct. So, how do we do this? Transport yourself to that beach, to that garden, to that bed of tangled sheets. What do you hear, see, feel, taste, smell? Come on now, stretch that brain – you don’t just see waves, you see, “the wrinkled sea beneath him crawls.” You don’t just hear birds, you hear “swallows circling with their shimmering sound.” Okay, I used a few noted poets, but I bet you can come up with just how those sheets feel, right? My point – place yourself there and search for the words. And not just the overused, trite variety; find the good ones.
Figurative language – using similes, metaphors, and personification. Taking you back to that dreary English class, aren’t I? Well, trust me – we can make dreariness disappear with these three puppies. Below are some good examples:
“The sky is low – the Clouds are mean,” Emily Dickinson
“I wandered lonely as a cloud.” William Wordsworth
“Darkness covered everything blacker than a hundred midnights down in a cypress swamp.” James Weldon Johnson
“His absurd little whiskers sticking out like a cartoon-mouse, his feet like small leaves,little lizard feet.” Theodore Roethke
“The startled little waves that leap in fiery ringlets from their sleep.” Robert Browning
“Hard and sharp as a flint and solitary as an oyster.” Charles Dickens
“Worst of all, her hair was uncoiling from the Aqua Net curl by curl, with the hair sprayweighing it down just enough so that the escaping locks hung lank around her face like bedsprings that had been tossed from a tenement window and left in an alley to rust.” Susan Elizabeth Phillips
“Draping a Biasia bag over her shoulder and putting Claudia Ciutis on her feet was like putting a silver-trimmed saddle on a big fat mule.” Jane Graves
“. . .the very mist on the Essex marshes was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds.” Joseph Conrad
From timeless authors and poets to current ones, all give good examples of different ways you can use figurative language. But don’t forget, figurative language is like salt: Add only a little, or it will be unreadable.
Now for a little homework. (You didn’t think you were getting off that easy, did you?) Look for good use of figurative language in the works that you read. Note them and then ask yourself why they work or don’t work. Then take a look at your own writing. Have you made a comparison that is flat or worse – clichéd? Have you missed an opportunity to give your words impact? Take a hard look at your language. You don’t have to go purple prose, but you can make word choices that make your readers stand up and take notice, or better yet, deliver the TKO!
Tennyson “The Eagle.”
 Sara Teasdale “There Will Come Soft Rains.”