H is for hyperbole

Sin#7: Hyperbole misuse

Hyperbole is a deliberate and obvious exaggeration, or extravagant statement, used to provoke an emotional response – for example:

– This bag weighs a tonne
– I’ll die if she doesn’t notice me
– I could sleep for a year

It is a device which is often used in character dialogue and can add a touch of realism to a scene due to the fact that real people exaggerate millions of times every day. People exaggerate when they are angry, when they are upset, when they are happy or sad, or even when they’re talking about the size of more *cough* delicate areas of themselves…like the size their bank balance.

Whilst hyperbole can be used to great effect in dialogue it is probably best to avoid using it in other areas of your novel. Describing an area as the most beautiful place on earth (hyperbole) is pushing it and might turn readers off. Plus it’s lazy! Explain WHY it is the most beautiful place on earth, describe it in detail.

If a character tells another character the bag they are carrying (maybe a body?) weighs a tonne then that’s ok. It’s the ‘opinion’ of the character and an intentional exaggeration, but if the writer tells the reader ‘Jeff began to drag the bag over to the corner of the room, it weighed a tonne’ then the bag better bloody well weigh a tonne!

Hyperbole can be used successfully within narrative but I think it can be an awkward and clumsy tool to wield. If in doubt, have your characters do the exaggerating for you.

Most clichés fall into the realm of hyperbole and if that isn’t good enough reason to avoid using the device in narrative I don’t know what is!

Don’t forget hyperbole has the potential to be one of the worst literary devices and it will be the end of the world if you use it incorrectly, so if I’ve told you once in this post I’ve told you a million times – be careful with hyperbole!


    • Ellie on April 10, 2011 at 09:35
    • Reply

    Excellent advice, Steven. Never use them in your prose, only dialogue. Now if I had a pound for every time someone told me that. . .

    Ellie Garratt

    • Bz on April 10, 2011 at 14:34
    • Reply

    I also have hyperbole for my post 🙂 great minds think alike 🙂 haha! I think your post is much more informative than mine 🙂

    Nice to meet you through the A-Z challenge! Hope to see you around!

    • Steven Chapman on April 12, 2011 at 12:29
    • Reply

    Thanks Ellie and Bz!

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