The Tremendous Technique of Total Exaggeration
"He was so rough he wore out his clothes from the inside." Louis L'Amour
"She had a two-hour meeting scheduled every half-an-hour."
"His language would blister the hide off the space shuttle."
Exaggeration is also called "hyperbole." It has several uses:
- To speed up recognition:
- Each of the character types described above is instantly recognizable in one line; a more subtle description of their character would take longer to develop. There is another word for "instantly recognizable character" of course: stereotype. Stereotype depends on exaggerated stock characteristics that are instantly recognizable: the extremely absent-minded Professor; the utterly stupid blonde.
- To create humor:
- "This chili is spicy!" to "This chili would boil on a cold stove."
- "I'm hungry!" to "If dinner isn't ready, I'll take a dinosaur, two bears, or five horses."
- "Caricature" is the exaggeration of the traits of a person or type:
- "I say, Old Thing," he drawled, "have you seen my Morning-Dove Gray Waistcoat for Being Charming to Maiden Aunts at Two in the Afternoon?"
- To exaggerate an effect, humorous or otherwise:
- In "the silence of the grave" and "the blackness of eternal night" a monster that "growls with eternal unslaked hunger" is a lot more frightening.
- When Jonathan Swift said "I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth" he was probably exaggerating. But it was effective.
- How many willowy blondes really have legs that go on for a mile?
Exaggeration is used in humor, satire, horror novels, romantic description, sex scenes, sermons... anywhere words are used, exaggeration is used sooner or later.
Looking for Hyperbole:
- Check through your newspaper for what looks like hyperbole. You may be more likely to find it in editorials or letters to the editor. If you don't find it there, try any supermarket tabloid.
- Translate the passage into non-hyperbolic language.
- What effect was the writer seeking to achieve?
- Try this with other media.
Describe a short, ordinary scene, like a man shopping for bread, cheese and tabasco sauce. Exaggerate all details and behavior. Aim for a humorous effect.
Describe a short, ordinary scene like an elderly couple sitting in their living room reading. Exaggerate selected details to build up a feeling of terror, suspense, impending doom.
Describe an ordinary scene like a couple eating toast and eggs together, and by exaggerating selected details create a mood of sensual excitement.
Guidelines for Critique:
- Is each effect achieved, or does it just seem strained?
Anitra L. Freeman
All contents and images are created and copyrighted by Anitra Freeman, except quotes from published material, which are attributed to the author and used only for educational purposes. Others may use this material, on request, for personal or educational purposes where no fee is charged, with credit to the author and a link wherever possible.
StreetWrites Workshop Exercises