Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Writing Tip

Couple posts ago, I put up a piece about an old bodybuilder. In an effort to make the comments about his (purported) drug use to achieve his physique funny, I used some hyperbolic references. How well that worked is up for debate, but I thought they were focused where I wanted them to be. 

Let's take one of those and parse it, to show why I think it worked. Let us go back to the genesis of the idea: "He took enough drugs to grow from very small to very large!"

Nothing there. Too general. Doesn't convey much of anything. 

"He took enough drugs to turn a dwarf into a giant!" Better, but still too bland.

"He took enough drugs to turn a dwarf into an NBA center!" Getting closer, but still not there.

"He took enough drugs to turn a Munchkin into Shaquille O'Neal!" Almost, but not quite. I want to add in what kind of drugs. And I want to make the image wider, so I multiply the entities: 

I said,  (He took) "Enough Human Growth Hormone to make the entire Munchkin cast of The Wizard of Oz into Shaquille O'Neal."

If you know the tropes, the dwarf Munchkins from WoZ morphing into a plus-seven-foot-three-hundred-and-fifty pound NBA basketball player via HGH is pretty specific. 

You get a sharper image the more specific you are ... but only up to a point. If you over do it, if you go past the audience's knowledge, you lose them. If I said, "He took enough HGH to turn Charlie Becker into Shaquille O'Neal!" probably most people won't know that Becker played the Mayor Munchkin in the Wizard of Oz. 

Too far. 

So, the trick is to narrow your image down so it is sharp enough to resonate with readers at the most visceral level you can manage. If you have to explain it, you probably went too far.


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