Martin Luther famously said, “Sin boldly, but believe more boldly still!” In other words, if you’re going to do something, don’t do it by halves!
While editing my novel, I became aware that I’d overused the phrase “as if” and it’s near-twin “as though.” Sure enough, when I hit the Find command, I discovered I’d used them a combined 119 times! I was determined to eliminate the majority of instances, and succeeded in reducing them to a modest 21 (not too bad for a 75,000 word book). An effective exercise in redundancy reduction, yes. But it led me to discover something even more important:
I was a literary wuss!
You see, I was afraid to be caught exaggerating or—heaven forbid—outright lying! After all, as ifs indicate situations that are uncertain, conditional, or untrue, so grammatically speaking they’re correct.
But they’re also wussy.
More often than not, as if clauses lack boldness. They’re like the guy who carries a lot of insurance and never takes any risks (“Paintball can lead to eye injuries, you know!”). Prudent, yes, interesting, no.
The solution? Sin boldly! Exaggerate. Or even downright lie! And anyway, you’re a writer, so it’s not lying, it’s hyperbole (eat that, wussy-me)! Hyperbole, when it’s executed correctly, isn’t about how things are, it’s about how they seem to be, how they might be, or how they feel.
“It felt as if the whole city was crashing down on top of her,” is OK. But “The whole city was crashing down on top of her!” is stronger, more direct, because it emphasizes how she feels.
“It seemed as though he’d been here before” is a straightforward déjà vu statement. It’s also lazy (I often catch myself lazy-writing). Remember Storytelling 101: “Show, don’t tell.” So how about, “The jaundiced stucco and cracked half-timber walls uncapped something rotting in the back of his mind”? It reveals more than mere information, it reveals character, and hints at a provocative backstory.
In a broader sense, we’re talking about similes vs. metaphors here. And dramatically speaking, metaphors are nearly always stronger than similes. “She felt like a broken doll” is OK, but “She was a broken doll” is more visual, more poignant. So sin boldly, and your readers will…
“Believe more boldly still!”