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Be a Better Writer--Hyperbole

Posted: Sat Jan 23, 2016 10:32 am
by glorybee
Hyperbole is exaggeration used for literary effect. By the way, despite how it looks, the word is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable: hy PER buh lee, not HY per bole. Why don’t we just say “exaggeration?” I don’t know—but isn’t it fun to impress people with a fun word like “hyperbole”? Toss it around in your sentences next time you’re in a group of people—they’ll kick you clear into next week.

Did you catch it—the hyperbole in that last sentence? Of course you did, because many instances of hyperbole have become clichés, too.

--She’s as dumb as a bag of hair
--I nearly died laughing
--I’ve told you a million times to clean your room
--I was so hungry I could eat a horse

None of those are literally true, of course—that’s where the exaggeration comes in. Like other clichés, use these sparingly. If your character needs to say something like this as an aid in characterization, fine…but only after you’ve determined that there’s not a fresher way of conveying that same sentiment.

Nevertheless, there are very good and legitimate uses for hyperbole:

1. When you exaggerate, there’s absolutely no doubt how you feel. It’s a good way to ‘show, not tell’—I could write that I was very hungry, or I could write that the walls of my stomach were pressing against each other so tightly that there wasn’t even room for a bacterium to breathe. That’s how hungry I was.

2. It often contributes to the voice of your piece with a note of humor or sarcasm. If I write I always lose at card games, you don’t know if that bothers me or if I couldn’t care less. But if I write I guess I’m as likely to win at cards as I am to meet Prince Charming¸ you might get the idea that I’m somewhat bitter about my card-playing ability.

3. Finally, hyperbole can help to create the mood or atmosphere of a story. Consider the following examples, and how they might contribute to the atmosphere:

• Everything was quiet as the thick snow fell—as quiet as the echo of a whisper.
• There was so much smoke in the saloon that Jake had to part it like the thick draperies in his grandmother’s sitting room.
• Stress made Madelyn hungry. On this day, she ate approximately three gazillion calories.

The following poem is an excellent example of hyperbole, and weirdly enough, when I taught this poem to my learning disabled juvenile delinquents, they loved it. Who knew?

It was written by Robert Burns in the late 1700s—don’t let that throw you. The poem is lovely:

A Red, Red Rose

O my luve is like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June;
O my luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonny lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only love,
And fare thee weel, awhile!
And I will come again, my love
Tho' it were ten thousand mile.

Isn’t that nice? Do you think he really, really loves her?

Here’s one more example from literature. This is a stanza from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Concord Hymn”, about the American Revolution, and I bet you’ll recognize the last line.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.

Obviously, the shot wasn’t literally heard round the world, but its impact was felt worldwide. The hyperbole drives the point home.


1. Write a few sentences (no more than 75 words) that contain a non-cliché use of hyperbole. Tell how it contributes to mood, voice, atmosphere, or characterization.
2. If you have a Writing Challenge entry that makes use of hyperbole, link to it here or give us a short excerpt. Tell us a little bit about your choice to use hyperbole, and how it served your writing purposes.
3. If you have a question or a comment about this lesson, or an idea for future lessons, share them in a comment.

Re: Be a Better Writer--Hyperbole

Posted: Sat Jan 23, 2016 11:08 am
by ThreeDee
How apt to use a Burns poem so close to Robbie Burns Day. The flow of his words and depth of his sentiment warms the deepest corners of my soul. Well done, Jan.

Re: Be a Better Writer--Hyperbole

Posted: Mon Jan 25, 2016 6:31 pm
by Sibermom65
Here's my hyperbole:
I have a half hour left before I begin the purge for my colonoscopy and turn my gut inside out.

Re: Be a Better Writer--Hyperbole

Posted: Mon Jan 25, 2016 6:50 pm
by glorybee
Sibermom65 wrote:Here's my hyperbole:
I have a half hour left before I begin the purge for my colonoscopy and turn my gut inside out.

Re: Be a Better Writer--Hyperbole

Posted: Tue Jan 26, 2016 6:06 am
by yackyjan
Man, it's been forever and a day since I've checked out the FaithWriter forum. I'm so glad I did, because this tip is out of this world! :wink:

Re: Be a Better Writer--Hyperbole

Posted: Fri Feb 05, 2016 2:03 pm
by MommaClaire
to Sibermom 65. That isn't an Hyperbole because you DO turn your gut inside out, lol. Good luck with that.