Writers are often called wordsmiths, like goldsmiths, silversmiths,et cetera. William Shakespeare is considered the greatest all wordsmiths, though the writers of some of the books in the Bible are considered Shakespeare’s masters. However, just as it is important for a goldsmith or a silversmith to know how to mold and bend metal, how to purify it, how to make it shine and sparkle, so too writers, as wordsmiths, must learn how to get the best results from their words.
For instance, consider the Figures of Speech. To wordsmiths, they are as Holy as the Ten Commandments are to Jews and Christians.
Here is a list of the Figures of Speech, with a bare-bones description of each.
- Metaphor: an implied comparison. “She is a beautiful flower.”
- Simile: a comparison of two different things in nature, (utilize the words “like” and “as” for the comparison). “She is like a beautiful flower.” “He is as beautiful as a flower.”
- Symbol (often called Metonymy): a word or image different from what it literally is. For instance, the cross is a symbol of torture, terrorism and death, but to Christians it represents the forgiving, renewing nature of the Christ.
- Hyperbole: Exaggeration for the purpose of emphasis. “It must have been a million degrees out today!” (Exclamation marks often accompany hyperboles.)
- Personification: Human characteristics attributed to inanimate objects. “The door knob frowned at me.” “The gun laughed at him.”
- Puns: We all know what puns are. But just in case, it’s the humorous use of words to bring out different meanings or the use of similar sounding words used for humor. “The fat will fly.” “He’s the memest man of all.” (Referring to memes, of course.)
- Alliteration: There are several forms of alliteration. The most common is using two or more words with similar sounds to create a feeling or rhythm. “Which witch is which?”
- Litotes: An understatement by saying the opposite of what you mean. “That’s the shortest skyscraper I’ve ever seen.”
- Onomatopoeia: Naming something associated with it. “The bees buzzed. The snake hissed. The tea pot whistled.”
- Premonition: often called foreshadowing. Forewarning your reader or viewer of what’s about to happen. Such as a minor character saying to one of the main characters, “I’m sorry for your loss” before the main character has learned of losing anyone or anything.
- Apostrophe: No, this is not the grammatical symbol, but rather the treating of inanimate objects as people, such as Wilson in the Tom Hanks film, “Castaway.” Wilson is just a ball made by the Wilson sports company. Another use of apostrophe is talking to people who are not present or have died. “Jenny, you really shouldn’t have run out into the road like that. It’s not my fault you’re dead. You should have known better.”
These are some of the tools you should use as writers. They help give your words, whether fiction or non-fiction, more character, more charisma, more power.
There are other tools, too, such as rhythm, sentence length, use of simple and complex sentences. And finally, and most importantly, using the right words for the right ideas.
Which sounds better? “Luke, I am your father!” or, “Hey, stupid, guess who your daddy is?” It all depends on whether you’re writing comedy, I suppose, or melodrama. Darth Vader farting (metaphor, symbol, or pun?) around in “The Empire Strikes Back” is fine for Robot Chicken, but not for the Star Wars movies.
Writing with words is similar to writing with musical notes. There’s times when loud, clanging, banging sounds are good and there’s times when soft sounds and violins are better. Some music is better with a piano or a flute and some is best with a guitar, electric or regular. Sometimes, electronic music is best and sometimes an orchestra is better.
You have to decide. If you make mistakes, so what? You really, truly never learn anything if you don’t make mistakes. And if your characters make mistakes, great. That’s what makes them human. And memorable.
We like 3CPO and R2D2 because of their humanity, even though they’re really just machines. They’re not toasters, they’re characters.
See you out there.