Brad Leach is with us again to turn around our brains
and look at writing in a new direction.
I’ve always been susceptible to a unique phrase or description. I’m impacted by the kind of sentence that freezes you for a moment and makes you say, “Oh wow. I wish I’d written that.” I wondered if turning a creative phrase was something you were born with, or could it be learned? Like football or gymnastics.
Reader’s Digest used to feature a column called, “Towards more Picturesque Speech.” It was a collection of such creative expressions. I clipped some of these and collected phrases from books; then I started using them as my writing gymnasium. How?
I first used Neil Boyd’s phrase, “He had a mind like a French horn.” How clever, I thought, to compare a brain to an orchestra instrument. I wondered, could I come up with something that clever? So I tried to think of one. Nothing.
Then I broke the problem into smaller pieces. “What if I changed only one of the elements? The instrument? He had a mind like a tuba? She had a mind like a piccolo or a Stradivarius? Interesting.”
Now, what if I changed more than one element? Not a mind, but a body. Not a French horn, but an upright base. “He had a body like an upright base or base fiddle?” Base fiddle is kind of country sounding, so how about, “He looked like a base fiddle in bib overalls.”
Or, “She had the shape of a violin.” Violins are strung tight, of course, so work that in. “She may have had the body of a violin, but her mind was strung too tight.”
Could we use cars instead of instruments? Could she have a Ferrari body? Could he have a Volkswagen mind? “Hers was a Maserati mind trapped in a discussion full of school zones and red lights.” Or, “Her faith stripped his mental gears.” You could choose baking or hospitals or movies, any collection of things or ideas.
To work with your story, try matching your setting or some aspect of the characters or plot. If your setting is a ranch, try, “His mind is like a lariat.” Cowboys rope things so, “His mind was a lariat that he tossed at any mystery he found. And she was his mystery.” Or compare his drive and passion to horses, or his hopes with saddles.
Heroine’s a dancer? Compare her appearance to a stage, her career to a dance, her loves to backdrops that are raised and lowered, etc. A wounded librarian? Library or book binding references. Murder on a boat? Use maritime references.
This may seem awkward, but allow yourself to try – and fail. Remember, you’re only looking for a gem or two among dozens of attempts. Try it with a favorite phrase or cliché. Allow your mind to make jumps.
For instance, “He scared the daylights out of me.” Cliché. I’ll choose a ranch theme. I thought of cowboys fixing fences, so follow my thoughts here: “He scared the split railed fence out of me” (doesn’t work)... “He could scare a split rail fence” (a little better)... “So scary he could split rails” (more active)... “He would scare barbed wire” (different fence)... “His stare would straighten barbed wire” (better - now use a thesaurus for stronger words)... His steely glare would strip the barb right off the wire and he was staring at me” (Ah!)... See how you can play? One doesn’t work? Try another.
With a little workout each day on the ‘writer’s rings’ and the ‘paragraph parallels’ you will begin to score with some new verbal ‘iron cross’ or a clever ‘dismount’ expression that nails a perfect 10 into the reader’s mind. Sprinkle these judiciously into your novel to give your reader that “Oh wow, I wish I’d written that” moment.