The Art of Exaggeration

A hyperbole is an extreme exaggeration used to make a point.

You might think that hyperbole has no place in nonfiction but if used well it places a bit of fun in your writing. Let’s look at this example from The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst:

Drive-thru ordering and my youngest daughter are a bad combination. Brooke can do many things in life. She’s my amazing, beautiful, talented, witty, youngest daughter. Who is amazing. I believe I may have mentioned that already. But she panics at the drive-thru box.

Even if we’ve talked about getting her order in mind beforehand, something always goes haywire. She takes way too long to give me her order. She changes things even after I start placing her order. She confuses me and the poor order taker who isn’t making enough money per hour to deal with people like us.

I feel so awful, like we are breaking drive-thru rules. I know we’re aggravating the people behind us. The cars aren’t honking, but I can feel their stares and glares and the desire for us to hurry up. The tension mounts to where I know a honk is coming any moment now, I just know it is. I’d pull out of the line and circle back around if I could, but you can’t at this drive-thru. There are poles in the ground to keep traffic flowing correctly, so once you commit to going through the drive-thru line, you are committed. Even if your daughter can’t decide. Even if the line behind you is now wrapping around the building.

Even if the order taker is secretly wishing you’d go away. You can’t. I can’t. We can’t.

I sweat. And start smelling like onions. The kind of onion smell coming from a deodorant fail. Seriously. All from our drive-thru order taking too long.

Lysa is using hyperbole to paint a scene. Did she really start smelling like onions? Was she really having a full-blown anxiety attack about Brooke’s inability to order? Most likely, no. However, it did cause anxiety because people were in line. It was frustrating. She took the normal angst we might feel when someone takes too long to make a choice and exaggerated how it made her feel to make this scene come to life.

Today we share two tips to help you use hyperbole effectively.

Avoid cliches

There are common examples of hyperbole that have been used so often they have become clichés.

  • Skinny as a toothpick
  • Hungry as a horse
  • Big as a house
  • Older than the hills
  • Could have knocked me over with a feather

If you’ve heard it, skip it.

Refuse to overuse hyperbole

If hyperbole is overused, it becomes satire. That’s great if that is your intention. If not, it is confusing to your reader.

In the first chapter of The Best Yes, Lysa used hyperbole to slip quietly from that exaggerated scene to show the real struggles that keep us from our best yes opportunities.

Hyperbole didn’t overwhelm the book. It complimented it. That’s your challenge too.

  1. Share one example of well-crafted hyperbole from a nonfiction book.
  2. Share one cliche you might want to avoid (not listed above).

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  5. Recently, I started a book, “Your days are Numbered”. The author use a phrase “Redeem the time you have lost”. He was referring to those in a rehab for addictions. They had lost so much time from families, job, and life in general. Now they had a second chance to start again.

    One hyperbole I can think of is “All’s well that ends well”.

  6. “You’re not in Kansas anymore”

    I’m reading The Struggle is Real by Nicole Unice. She starts by telling a story about the drive-thru line at her youngest’s school. She uses words like, “violently gesturing at me,” and “closing her fist around her name tag.”

    It works because we can all relate to a situation that feels like that, and it’s enjoyable to read because she uses humor and hyperbole to make the point.

  7. My cliche to avoid: Madder than a wet hen.
    I recently read Kayla Aimee’s book, In Bloom. She tells a great story with swells of hyperbole that fade into deep emotion. Like, “I really didn’t want him to see my wedding dress. I just also did not want him to see the 639 piles of dirty laundry surrounding said wedding dress.” She uses it to describe feeling inadequate as a housekeeper from early on in her marriage.