Sunday, June 22, 2014

Overusing superlatives

The whole point of a superlative is that it indicates this is as extreme as the situation can be. Take that old trio, good, better, best.
Green is good. Frogs are better. But green frogs are the best. You cannot have bester, or more better. Best is as good as it gets. And for wordsmiths among you, the literal translation of the archaic word “bettermost” is “best”.

Littering your writing with superlatives just erodes and devalues their effect. “Everything is Awesome” might be a catchy title for a kids’ movie, but even in fiction if everything is awesome, awesome starts to translate as pretty average.

Now think of words like amazing, staggering, flabbergasting, iconic, unique. Would your hero really be staggered (lose his balance, fall over with shock) if your heroine enjoyed eating chocolate? Probably not. It wouldn’t be any of the other superlatives you could think of either, although your hero might be happy he’d thought to give it to her.

Tone down the superlatives. Save them for occasions that truly are outstanding. SHOW the readers how happy/surprised/or whatever the characters are instead of eroding the language into a place where everyday ordinariness is coated with wanton hyperbole.

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

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