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Manor Lakes Specialist College: 5. Twisting Words

Thursday, August 26, 2010 , Posted by Sandy Fussell at 11:50 PM

It's no secret that I love words. I love making them up. Onomatopoeias are my favourite. I'm often making a lot of noise as I research sounds - banging my gong (that's Sensei in Samurai Kids!) and dropping rocks off my balcony (so I can hear the sound of Iluak tripping over the soapstone pots and pans in Polar Boy).

The other thing I really like to do with words is twist them into something the reader might not be expecting. There are lots of common phrases we all know well. For example if I said "White as..." I would bet my next book at least half the class would say "snow". And if I quoted an idiom like "the cat that swallowed the ..." the other half of the class would say "canary".

One way to improve your descriptions, and have some fun at the same time, is to always say the unexpected. And if possible, to relate the unexpected words you substitute, to the genre or tone of the book. For example in Samurai Kids, when I was describing a sly smile, I used "the cat that swallowed the crane". I specifically didn't want to say canary (like everyone would be expecting) and I chose crane because it was not only a Japanese bird but the spirit symbol of my main character Niya Moto.

Here are some common phrases for you to improve.

as white as snow
as dark as night
as hard as nails
as slow as a snail
as fast as bullet
as dead as a dodo
as weak as a kitten
squawking like a parrot
exploding like a bomb
crying like a baby
howling like a wolf
sparkle like diamonds
glitter like gold

And here are some idioms for a harder challenge. Don't forget to retain a sense of the meaning of the idiom. If I was writing a gothic horror story and the possibility of a character dying, I wouldn't say "I was afraid he might kick the bucket", I would say "I was afraid he might kick the coffin".
kick the bucket
cost an arm and a leg
jump the gun
let sleeping dogs lie
make a mountain out of a molehill
raining cats and dogs

Try and come up with truly unique twists. They might be genre relevant. Or really ridiculous and funny. Or beautifully descriptive. A favourite I remember from a workshop I did at the Sydney Writer's Festival was 'sparkle like a city of stars'.

Go on. Surpise me!

PS If YouTube was working for me tonight there would be a funny 'raining cats and dogs' link here. But alas... watch this space...

Currently have 6 comments:

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thats a great idea because i cant think of anymore but its a great idea :) Stacey

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Sandy! Tegan here. Lets see…

    As white as a…polar bear

    We went to the football one day, and my sister's friend's dad yelled out as a bombers football player "Nice shoes ya princess" The football player's shoes were pink. I thought about if the players shoes were yellow;"Nice shoes ya yellow footed daisy!" Then I thought it was very weird, since daisies don't have feet.

    Your as soaked as a husky after a swim!

    That blanket looks like a malamute rolled on it!

    Notice that I like to use things with dog breeds!

    As green as the grass in a cows stomach! (gross!)

    I think thats all I can think of now… Oh, if you like wolf books, YOU HAVE TO GET, Promise of the Wolves. I LOVED IT! IT WAS MY MOST FAVOURITE BOOK EVER, ITS THE ULTIMATE WOLF BOOK!

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hiya Sandy,

    I don't exactly get what you mean with changing the phrases, so i am going to change the words a bit so people won't expect it.

    as white as a polar bear
    howling like an upset baby
    exploding with anger
    as fast as a cheater
    as delicate as a baby bird

    Thats what I could come up with.


  1. Thanks STACEY. It's the funny thing about writing tricks - sometimes you just can't think of an example but later when you are writing something - this tip on how to improve descriptive writing might just pop into your head and be useful. I hope! *smile*

  1. How could I not read the ultimate wolf book?!!! I'm on to it - and will track it down. Did I ask you if you have read the WOLVES OF TIME series by William Horwood? It's my favourite wolf book and from memory (I read it ages ago but it lives on as the favourite!) there are 3 books in the series.

    I thought this one was soclever - descriptive and funny!: As green as the grass in a cows stomach!

    I liked the fact you had a dog theme going with your twists. I have a Japan theme going with my twists in Samurai Kids.

  1. TANAYA, You are right, it is sometimes tricky to twist things outside the context of writing a story.

    These two were my 'picks' from your list:
    as fast as a cheater
    as delicate as a baby bird

    They both show you have definitely got the hang of it. As for the sayings - if you are writing one and it sounds familar - you will recognise it then and maybe change it a bit at the time.