The Art of Exaggeration

the art of exaggerationDon’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.  C. S. Lewis

I’ve already written about the dangers of using big words when small ones will do, but in the context of academic writing. I like this quote from C.S. Lewis because it shows how your creative writing also suffers when you exaggerate too much and too often. Exaggeration can kill a reader’s interest in a work you’ve put your heart into.

There are a few classic works that can pull off using words like “infinite,” “unspeakable,” and “unknowable” dozens of times.  Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories are among them.

However, these works are exemptions to the rule. For the most part, exaggeration is best used sparingly. People get tired of it really fast. THIS IS ALSO PART OF THE REASON WHY TYPING IN ALL CAPS IS SO ANNOYING. IN A MISGUIDED ATTEMPT TO SEEM IMPORTANT, THE WRITER SIMPLY MAKES PEOPLE STOP READING.

Think of all the times reality TV contestants exclaim “Oh my God,” “cool,” or “amazing.” Because I’ve watched a lot of reality TV shows over the years, these words don’t excite me as much as they used to. In fact, they’ve become rather annoying. 

The same principle applies to writing, whether for creative or academic purposes. If you don’t want to turn off your readers, you need to learn how to use superlatives and exaggeration properly.


3 Responses to “The Art of Exaggeration”

  1. 1 porkyvore December 30, 2008 at 1:07 am

    thanks for the tip!! 🙂

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