Personification: giving human characteristics to something nonhuman
Many of us do this even outside of writing. My husband and I will often address the dog as though he were capable of understanding and responding to what we say, and occasionally we will even ‘interpret’ his facial expressions and provide dialogue for him. We’ve even described houses as having ‘their own personality’, and often attribute malice to the tree at the corner of the property that likes has caused damage to the implements used to take care of the grass nearby.
Litotes: a type of understatement that makes a point by denying the opposite
Sometimes, it is easier to describe someone by stating what he or she is not. When discussing my aunt, I can go into her myriad personality disorders, or I can just describe her as ‘most assuredly not a rational human being’.
Word choice in English can be particularly daunting
In English, not only do you have to worry about the literal definition of the word, you also must be concerned with the connotations and associated meanings. Take, for example, the word ‘niggardly’. The literal definition of the word is stingy or miserly. However, due to its similarity to an ethnic slur, many assume that it’s origins stem from that particular ethnic slur. While that is not accurate, it is still best to substitute other words instead rather than risk offense where none may be intended.
Rhythm is defined as a systematic variation in the flow of sound
Lately, I’ve been reading aloud to my son. I’ve noticed that some books just read aloud better than others. Take, for example, Jack London’s Call of the Wild. There are several sentences on the first page alone that I run out of breath long before I finish, and I used to be on the swim team. Other stories, such as the Neverending Story, seem to almost beg to be read aloud and it’s easy to get a rhythm going in the reading. My husband describes my reading certain texts as ‘a soothing sort of chant’. I do often read poetry aloud to the kid for just such a reason. If I can find a good rhythm to read, he finds it soothing and falls asleep much faster.
Typographical, grammatical, or foreign language translation errors can be a great source of inspiration.
‘The vodka is good, but the meat is rotten’. I was writing dialogue for a character who was alien to Earth languages, and one of the methods I used was to go to an online automatic translator, translate an English phrase into another language, translate that into a third language, then translate the whole back into English. One such translation was ‘it’s cold, we should get moving’, which became ‘let us obtain cold to moving’. It worked out perfectly, with just enough of the gist there that the other characters were capable of making out what the alien was trying to say.
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