When a writer uses figurative language that is surprising or funny or original, it catches my attention and keeps me reading. Sometimes the expression captures exactly what I am thinking and creates a connection between me and the writer, which is the goal of every writer.
P.G. Wodehouse was the master of humorous, figurative language. Books have been written, quoting his expressions. Some of my favorites are:
He “looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say ‘When!'” “Jeeves and the Impending Doom”
To describe someone completely taken by surprise, he wrote “Aunt Agatha, whose demeanour was now rather like that of one who, picking daisies on the railway, has just caught the down-express in the small of the back.” “Aunt Agatha Takes the Count”
Describing an angry school teacher who thinks a guest is about to tell her students an inappropriate story, he writes that the teacher cut off her guest, “rising like an iceberg.” “Bertie Changes His Mind”
“Rising like an iceberg” says so much about the character. I can picture a large, formidable, middle-age lady, perfectly polite, but whose words are so cold that the guest is in danger of hypothermia. I just used some figurative language of my own, but as you can read, not nearly as funny or concise as Mr. Wodehouse’s words.
Rex Stout wrote one of my favorite personifications in his novel And Be a Villain. Private eye Archie Goodwin is on a stakeout and realizes he shouldn’t have skipped breakfast.
“My stomach had decided that since it wasn’t going to be needed any more it might as well try shriveling into a ball and see how I liked that. I tried to kid it along by swallowing, but because I hadn’t brushed my teeth it didn’t taste like me at all, so I tried spitting instead, but that only made my stomach shrivel faster.” Later when Archie finally gets something to eat, he writes, “My stomach and I made up, and we agreed it forget it ever happened.”
In The Maltese Falcon, the detective Sam Spade is described as looking “rather pleasantly like a blond Satan.” That is such an imaginative description that I knew immediately how to picture the character.
Figurative language lends itself to humor. I have read a lot by different humor writer, but my favorite is Patrick F. McManus. I’ll write about him on Thursday.