Breaking Hyperbole as Writing Inspiration

breaking hyperbole as writing inspirationBreaking hyperbole as writing inspiration is one of the mainstays of creative writing. Especially genres like fantasy and science fiction. And since this tactic is so common, I’m guessing it’s not going to be a totally unfamiliar idea for most writers. That’s why this article isn’t meant to be a treasure trove of new ideas.

Although that would be cool. 

My goal instead is to make you more conscious of how you’ve used hyperbole as a worldbuilding or inspiration technique. Analyzing the techniques we use helps us be more deliberate in our methods – it lets us consciously choose to use them (or not) based on our goals and what we want to achieve.

How to Break Hyperbole for Writing Inspiration

All You Need Is Hyperbole and a Literal Mind 

Like most figurative language, hyperbole (when used correctly) works because the reader knows not to take it literally. It’s great for making people aware of details (without blatantly pointing them out), adding humor, and writing dialogue for characterization. 

Here’s an example:

Milly: Oh, I used to dance and flirt the night away. But that was a thousand years ago!

When the character says this, we don’t assume that she’s over a thousand years old. Instead, we understand that the situation happened a long time ago and that the character either likes using sayings or exaggerations (or doesn’t want say specifically how long ago it was).

In short, a hyperbole gives us an impression of the truth without being the actual truth.

But what if the character were speaking literally? What if it actually has been a thousand years since she danced and flirted the night away? It’s possible in fantasy stories, right? Possibly even science fiction.

Well, in that case, there is no exaggeration, which means there is no hyperbole. It’s not even figurative language at that point. Instead, the statement is the literal truth.

So when you take hyperbole literally, it’s not hyperbole anymore.

That’s why I called this activity breaking hyperbole. If hyperbole were the goal, you wouldn’t want to do this. For this exercise, however, hyperbole is a means to an end – not what you were aiming for.

Exaggerate Reality to Create Fantasy

Many of my writing prompts involve using elements of real life in the story (people watching, the library inspired writing prompt, Food as a Writing Prompt, etc.). And, oddly enough, when writing for them, you may have also used this one (What?)

As I said before, breaking hyperbole is a common part of the creative process. In other words, it’s a way of transforming reality into something new for your world or your story. Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick something from real life.
  2. Write a hyperbole about it.
  3. Take the hyperbole literally.
  4. Expand that literal interpretation to create something new.

Lizards could inspire dragons, speed trains could inspire instantaneous travel by train, and a lush garden could inspire a flower world. Or 50 other things. Whatever style or genre you write in can find inspiration by exaggerating reality to form new truths – even romance exaggerates reality for the sake of the story (and we all know to never let the truth get in the way of a good story).

It’s pretty obvious that most writers do this in one way or another. Now that I’ve made you think about it (theoretically), though, you can choose to use it deliberately on days when you’re at a loss for ideas. If nothing else, may it get your creative engine started and lead you in new directions.

Happy writing! Have fun breaking hyperbole – or storming the castle, whatever!

A City’s Character: More Writing Inspiration from Travel

urban city aerialA while back, I talked about how to make the most of travel delays with the people-watching writing prompt, but even if there are no (or few) people around, you can still find plenty of useful inspiration in your travels by considering a city’s character.

Places are like people. They have a certain look, a certain feel. They have their quirks, their strengths, and their flaws. They can be welcoming, or they can be hostile. Whatever size or density, places have plenty to draw from as a writer.

Here are some aspects you might want to consider when using a place for inspiration:

  • Worldbuilding: style, layout, laws, business, crime, attractions, sounds, weather, wildlife, landscape, etc. Anything that exists in a real place can be used to make your imagined place feel real, to add interest, or even for humor.
  • Mood: Atmosphere is a powerful tool, and one of the best ways to learn to build atmosphere is to experience and observe a specific atmosphere and analyze how it is created. Or simply use imagery as inspiration.
  • Pacing: Different places go at different speeds. This is especially noticeable if you go somewhere that moves at the opposite tempo you’re used to. If you have the time to sit and watch the world go by (preferably with a nice cup of tea), you can see how those speeds ebb and flow throughout the day and even how different people have different speeds within that pacing. You could even pattern your story arc after the ebbs and flows of a town (wouldn’t that be an interesting project?).
  • Food: Cultural differences bring food differences – not only through what people eat but also through how people treat their food. Is it something grabbed on the run? Is it something eaten at the table in a leisurely manner? Is it scarce or plentiful? Even if you already use food for worldbuilding or writing inspiration, seeing new foods or new customs can give you fresh perspectives and ideas.
  • Personification: Or should I say, “reverse personification”? (No, I shouldn’t.) Writers often describe places as people (arrogant old women, young charmers, etc.), but you could just as easily reverse that to build a character inspired by a place. Like the dryad that takes on characteristics of her tree, you could build a character who embodies the spirit of a place.
  • Structural Opportunities: Ok, this might seem a little weird at first glance (there’s probably a better word for it), but bear with me. What I’m talking about is the layout of traffic flow and living spaces, both on a large and small scale. How the city is laid out in relation to the landscape, how streets meet each other, how green space or exterior space is tied in, and even where windows are (or aren’t).
    1. These are all things you might think of with worldbuilding, but they can also be very useful for plotting. Like looking at a building and realizing how easy it would be to walk from one to the other. Or like the fact that only locals know that you have to take the highway exit that says “west” to go east… (true story).

There are more options (always). And if you’ve thought about it at all, you’ve already realized that 1. these “aspects” are all things you can apply to where you live (no travel required) and 2. a lot of them are applying other writing prompts to a different location…

You caught me.

Seriously, though, this prompt isn’t about an idea you can only use when you travel. There’s no such thing! It’s more about remembering to be observant and think about this stuff when you have the opportunity to see things you don’t get to see every day. That’s the point of travel, right? You get to experience a strange mix of familiar and different.

That’s a great mix for writing inspiration – but only if you look.