Well-turned Phrases


Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech
which you are used to seeing in print.
” —George Orwell

I contemplated that advice as I reviewed the Guild’s Apprentice course. Its lesson on writing style advises:

“Good writers try to get out of the way of their own messages. They don’t try to impress with … fancy sentences that draw attention to their writing ability. … If a sentence draws attention to itself or to the writer, it has to go.”

“Kill your darlings,” Stephen King says, “kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

It’s a fine balance to craft metaphors that communicate powerfully, but subtly. Recently I re-read King’s massive novel 11/22/63taking the time to search for nuances in his craft.

A few of his well-turned phrases:

● In small towns certain names seem to sprout like dandelions on a lawn in June. (p 126)

● … ordered a shore dinner, which came with clams and a lobster roughly the size of an outboard motor. (pp 126-127)

● … the color of water beneath a sky from which snow will soon fall. (p 152)

● … flooded the room with enough fluorescent light to take out an appendix by. (p 241)

● … the fall colors began to bloom—first timid yellow, then orange, then blazing strumpet red as autumn burned away another Maine summer. (p 270)

● … long autumn afternoons, most hazy and warm. Dusty gilded light slanting down through the trees. At light, a quiet so vast it seemed almost to reverberate. (p 270)

● … staring … with his mouth slightly hung open. It was the expression of a farmer who sees dinosaurs cropping grass in his north forty. (p 325)

● It was more than a smile; his face was transformed with the happiness that’s reserved for those who are finally allowed to reach all the way up. (p 328)

They must not have been King’s darlings. But they’re certainly not ones I’m used to seeing in print—or in anyone’s first draft.

Andy Scheer, the Guild’s Editor-in-Chief, also works as a freelance book editor and an agent with Hartline Literary.

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  1. says

    Yes, but here’s the deal…what do you do if are challenged in coming up with anything original? Is there a way to hone this?

    By the way, I am currently immersed in Stephen King’s “On Writing” right now.

    • CWGadmin says

      If you found you’ve used a familiar expression, try giving it a twist. James Scott Bell cites the example of changing a reference that something “looked like a million dollars” to “… a million dollars–tax free.” And in this article, I talked about phrases that made daisies look stale.

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