Art by Slava Ilyayev

 We've talked before, in the unit on descriptive writing, about how writing and painting share similarities, and how a writer choosing the right word is like a painter choosing the right colour.

We're going to continue that analogy.

In Economic English (unit coming soon), we were looking at how to cut back words, shorten sentences and produce the clearest expression of thought through language.

We can think of this as being similar to realism in artwork, where we try to produce an image as true-to-life as possible. No whistles and bells, just a straightforward, lifelike portrayal where we can clearly comprehend the meaning.

It is important that we learn to master economic English because it is absolutely necessary for clear communication. In all forms of writing, it is important that you can clearly and accurately convey meaning.

However, this is not the only form of writing.

Bizarrely, our brains take pleasure from things not always being clear. We call this sort of unclear language 'creative use of language.' This is not the same as confusing or meaningless language, which tends to irritate us, but there are very specific ways of using unclear language that the brain enjoys.

Creative use of language is more akin to impressionism in artwork, for example the painting above by Ilyayev. Unlike realism, or economic English, it is not trying to present a completely accurate picture. Instead, it plays with light and colour to produce a feeling. Whereas realism is concerned with practicality, impressionism is concerned with beauty and nuance.

Economic English is usually literal, whereas creative language is usually figurative. With the first, we mean exactly what we say, with the second, we are drawing comparisons between patterns and ideas. When we use language and offer examples, we can either speak literally or figuratively.

An example of this:


    Literal: The night is dark.
    Figurative: The night is a dark cloak wrapped about the earth.


    Literal: The milk is sour.
    Figurative: The milk is curdled as the teat of an old goat.


    Literal: Sharon hates Julie.
    Figurative: In Sharon's eyes, Julie is a pus-filled spot on her chin that needs squeezing.


    Literal: Paul is happy that it is spring.
    Figurative: The joy of spring burst in Paul's chest like a thousand daffodils blooming.


You get the idea.

When we are writing academic or technical documents, we are usually very literal in our examples and explanations, but when we write poetry or fiction, we often become figurative, because our minds enjoy the creativity of it. There is a sort of pleasure in understanding something that is not explicitly spelled out for us. And because simile and metaphor light up the sensory areas of our brains, that imagery can stay with us longer than straightforward language sometimes does.

With that in mind, let's look at three key formulas for not saying exactly what you mean.


[Click to proceed to unit on simile >>>]