Writers, watch your figures! (Of speech)

Well, if you are pondering a little over the title, let me elucidate that for you. I was just having a  little fun playing with the different meanings of the word ‘figure’. By the way, that was a figure  of speech used, a pun, well intended. If this brought a grin on your beautiful face, the purpose  is served. 

Yes! That’s what figures of speech are capable of. In a simple, crisp and concise format, it  encapsulates a whole world of emotions. 

If you are looking for ways to convey more without saying much, then figures of speech are what  you must resort to. 

What is a figure of speech? 

A ‘figure of speech’ diverts from the ordinary usage of expressions in order to create an  impressive and an everlasting effect. It carries the reader with it on the writer’s voyage and by  the time the reader reaches the shore, he or she would want to travel back again but, this time  alone. Alone because delectable thoughts linger on leaving behind indelible imprints in their  minds. 

Here is a compilation of 10 figures of speech which are easy to comprehend and use, yet can stand out as the most effective tools in a writer’s kit. 

  1. Simile and Metaphor:  

Both are similar as they bring out an essence of comparison yet stand different in their  usage. 

  • Simile compares two otherwise dissimilar things, often introduced by the words like or  as.  

Example 1: “The very mystery of him excited her curiosity like a door that had neither lock  nor key.”- Gone with the wind by Margaret Mitchell. 

Example 2: Her face glowed like the rays of the early morning sun. 

Example 3: On seeing the first drops of rain, the farmer’s eyes sparkled like stars.   

  • Metaphor is used to equate two things not because they actually are the same but for  the sake of comparison.  

Example 1: “My thoughts are stars.” Fault in our stars by John Green 

Example 2: Life is a beautiful journey.

Example 3: Her children were the light of her life.  

If you want to bring the characters in a story or the subject matter of poetry, come alive and  dazzle before the reader’s eyes, just go ahead and make it a part of your writing. They come  with a promise to stay with you like a pot of hidden treasure. 

  1. Alliteration and Repetition: 

Both involve repetitive usage of letters/expressions to build mood and drive home a point. 

  • The most commonly used tongue twister, ‘she sells sea shells on the sea shore’ brings out  a fun element when the ‘s’ sound is repeated. It adds a zing to an otherwise plain text.  In alliteration only the initial consonant sound is used in succession to provide an audible  pulse that gives a piece of writing a lulling and an emotive effect. 
  • Adding a rhythm to a piece of writing makes the context more memorable. Repetition is repeating words in succession to bring about a persuasive effect and to  convince readers of its truth. A scream for help always uses repetition as a call to button  for immediate action. “Help! Help! Someone, please help!” 

These literary devices have the potential to unleash splashes of splendid colors onto a canvas of tales or verses. 

  1. Personification and Apostrophe: 

If you, as a writer, want to give human qualities to objects and ideas or have characters  talking aloud to objects to add on an emotional tag, then personification and apostrophe  are your go to devices. 

  • Personification toys on the idea of the representation of an abstract quality in  human form. 

Example 1: “Death lays his icy hand on kings”- The Glories of Our Blood and State  by James Shirley 

Example 2: The yellow flowers waved out to the little children playing in the fields. Example 3: The moon peeped into my room through the silvery drapes. 

  • Apostrophe is talking aloud to an inanimate object or the dead. It never fails to  pique the curiosity of the reader.

Example 1: “O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done” – O Captain! My  Captain by Walt Whitman. Here the poet is making a direct address to the US  president Abraham Lincoln to add a sentimental value to his poem. 

Example 2: “River, why do you flow so gently?” 

Example 3: “O fluffy clouds, I often wonder what lies beyond you!” 

We, human beings, love emotions, don’t we? Instead of showing emotions using plain text, the writer has the option to spice it up with these locutions. Rest  assured, the results are always effervescent and entertaining. 

  1. Antithesis and Oxymoron: 

Contradictory concepts popping out of the same sentence never fails to raise the  reader’s eyebrows. It makes one sit up straight, push back their glasses and read the  sentence once again. As a writer if you have jolted a passive reader into attention, you must pat your back for a job well done. 

  • An oxymoron uses two opposing terms in the same phrase. 
  • Example 1: “No light, but rather darkness visible”- Paradise Lost by Milton. The  sentence may seem a bit odd yet makes complete sense. You see, in the  writer’s world there are no odds, everything gets evened out as the story or  the poem progresses. 

Example 2: The hot cup of bitter sweet coffee brightened up my day. Example 3: The paintings in the hall were awfully good. 

  • Antithesis uses two contrasting ideas in the same sentence but not in the same  phrase. 

Example 1: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”- Neil  Armstrong. 

Example 2: Keep your mouth closed but your mind open. 

Example 3: Many students participated but only a few were selected. 

A writer is the only person who has the prerogative to juxtaposition words and clauses  to suit his or her whims and fancies. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead, just add  this arrow in your quiver. 

  1. Onomatopoeia:
  • The use of words that imitate sound creates a vivid but clear imagery. The sensory  effect makes one feel a part of the writer’s plot, hearing what the writer or the  poet wants you to hear. ‘Ding! Dong! ‘Does that ring a bell? 

Example 1: The raindrops pitter-pattered on the roof. 

Example 2: The green leaves rustled in the cool breeze. 

Example 3: My teeth chattered as I pranced about in the snow. 

  • Adding sounds to your action words appeals to the auditory sense making sure the writing always sizzles and never fizzles. Let the boom of your imaginative  fireworks create a buzz through your writing. 
  1. Hyperbole:  

When as a writer, you want to emphasize the magnitude of a situation without  actually deceiving the reader, then hyperbole is the Brahmastra (the most powerful  weapon in a writer’s quiver). Mind you, this Brahmastra does not destroy, it only  creates. 

  • Hyperbole is an exaggerated, attention seeking statement to emphasize  something or to spice up things with humor. The idiom- I am so hungry I could eat  a horse is a perfect example of hyperbole. 
  • “I have a million things to do” or “I have a mountain of assignments to complete”, if you are saying this as you are reading then, congratulations! You have already  used a hyperbole

Example 1: My sister got so emotional that she wept oceans of tears. Example 2: I lost my way and had to walk a million miles to get here. Example 3: These high heels are killing me. 

Isn’t using figures of speech a cakewalk? No! you don’t have to answer that. That was a  rhetorical question I threw in. That’s a figure of speech that is posed not to elicit an  answer but to create a dramatic effect and get the reader in a thinking mode.

A Word of Caution: 

Everything good in life has to be taken with a pinch of salt. So, use the literary devices prudently.  Placing it strategically adds personality to your writing, excites the reader and will compel them  to respond. 

Too much is too bad. Figures of speech must be used like pearls in a necklace. Use it sparingly  but position it rightly. 

A little knowledge is dangerous. An in-depth knowledge of the literary devices is absolutely  necessary before its usage. Just like it can make, the wrong usage can break your writing. 

Figurative language in the hands of a talented writer is one of the tools that could turn ordinary  writing into literature. 

Go on, paint the town black and white. Let the figures of speech you embellish your writing with, help sparkle and dazzle the reader’s horizon as you create a whole new world for them to sizzle  in. 

Happy Writing!

// This piece has been penned by Vidya Sanath as a part of the BTB Files initiative of Beyond the Box to create valuable and exclusive content related to creative writing and literature online //

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