I’ll SHOW then TELL:
“Goodbye LA, G'day Australia.” She wiggled her hips and Beyoncéd into the hall.
That fun example was written by multi-Immersion grad Elaine Fraser.
Now I’ll TELL:
Allusion is a rhetorical device. It’s a quick reference to a famous person or event that includes the trait.
BEWARE: Allusion comes with a warning.
Always consider your readership. Their age, their interests, their world.
If the reader doesn’t know the person or event referenced, it may pull them out of the story.
Will they know the famous person or event?
Does it date you? Date the book?
Did the reputation of the person you referenced change, and ruin your allusion?
Tiger Woods. Martha Stewart. Justin Bieber.
Even if they’re on the good list now, they’d jerk your reader out of the story.
Would it be smarter to skip the allusion?
But — remember that allusion includes the trait. If the reader doesn’t know the reference, they’d probably understand your message.
Check out this character description from Tana French.
I’d been expecting someone so nondescript he was practically invisible, maybe the Cancer Man from The X Files, but this guy had rough, blunt features and wide blue eyes, and the kind of presence that leaves heat streaks on the air where he’s been.
Love the fresh writing too:
…and the kind of presence that leaves heat streaks on the air where he’s been.
Wow. Smooth and powerful.
Check out this no-allusion version:
I’d been expecting someone so nondescript he was practically invisible, but this guy had rough, blunt features and wide blue eyes, and the kind of presence that leaves heat streaks on the air where he’s been.
If the reader doesn’t know the Cancer Man from The X Files, they still get the point.
More examples of using allusion in character descriptions.
Bootleg Magik, Cathy Matuszak, 2-time Immersion Grad
Thin. In an Ichabod Crane awkward sort of way. Rangy and lean like the boys back in Ireland who were just starting to grow into their fast-sprouting bones.
Fresh writing. And the last part of the last sentence carries a universal truth. The reader nods and smiles and keeps reading.
She stormed back into the room, hands on hips, her cropped black hair sticking every direction but down, and then she glared at me, the same glare my stepmother used to give me when I gave her the Nazi salute. That woman was so touchy about her resemblance to Hitler.
Wow. Smart, fresh, funny, zany, powerful. Quintessential Darynda Jones.
His head was too big for his shoulders so that you feared his neck would collapse from the weight of it. His hair was crew cut all around, except in the front, where it hung down in a Caesar line above his eyes. A soul patch, an ugly smear of growth, sat on his chin like a burrowing insect. All in all, he looked like a member of a boy band gone to serious seed.
Allusion can also deepen characterization. Read the last sentence in the last two examples:
- That woman was so touchy about her resemblance to Hitler.
- All in all, he looked like a member of a boy band gone to serious seed.
See how Darynda Jones and Harlan Coben went deeper? Smart, smart, smart.
The next allusion is embedded in another rhetorical device.
That was before my father died and took my mother and sister with him. That was before I discovered Snow White was nothing but a fairy tale that would never come true for a girl like me. That was before I knew that sheds weren’t just used for creating beautiful things. That was before I knew they were also used to destroy.
Amy Mateo wrote an anaphora, using the same word or phrase to kick off three or more phrases, clauses, or sentences in a row. She slipped allusion in the second sentence of the anaphora.
The paragraph is beautifully cadenced — and she deepened characterization too.
A few more examples, analyzed.
Pursued, Megan Menard
- Tires squealed, Celia screamed, and the way Mom drove like a maniac, you’d think we had to Jason-Bourne it outta there.
Smart cadence in the whole paragraph. Those first two 2-word pairings give the sentence a cadence jump-start.
Plus, Megan Menard turned allusion, Jason Bourne, into a verb. That’s a rhetorical device called enallage. Not that you have to know the Greek words. Definitely smart writing!
- The cloud that swirled around John made him look all tough-guy-in-the-mist. The stone, the raindrops, the gear. It wasn’t Everest and John wasn’t Bear Grylls, but this climb sure wasn’t for a wuss.
Another wowzer! Megan Menard gave the reader a strong visual. She used a hyphenated-run-on, a frag, two allusions, and anchored it with a powerful thought. Compelling cadence too.
Long Lost, Harlan Coben, NYT Bestseller
“Listen to Mr. Billy Gates back there. Knows everything about the Internet all of a sudden.”
The POV character is being sarcastic about his dad. But Harlan Coben didn’t give the reader a clichéd, predictable, skimmable response. He gave the reader something fresh wrapped up in a Humor Hit.
- She had to smile at Junior’s massive backside in overalls, waddling beside her tall, lean father. Their personalities were the flip sides of a coin as well; her dad’s Atticus Finch to Junior’s Vinnie Gambini.
Love how Laura Drake compared physical traits and personalities.
- Red shortie cowgirl boots, a lacy black square-dance miniskirt puffed with petticoats, a white bustier cut down to there, and a black lace bolero jacket. Char swallowed, attempting to focus on the woman’s features. A nimbus of black curls overwhelmed her deathly pale, sharp-boned foxy face. Huge dream-catcher earrings bobbed with her every move.
She looks like Dolly Parton gone Goth.
Ha! Dolly Parton gone Goth? Awesome!
The Last True Cowboy, Laura Drake, 2-time Immersion Grad, Cruising Writers Grad
To Be Released December 4
- My hair is more strawberry than strawberry-blonde, meaning if it takes longer than ten minutes to catch a ride, I’ll look like Elmo. With freckles.
- “Why do I get my hopes up? I’m like Lucy with the football, in Peanuts. We’ve done this at least once every year since we were twenty.”
- From what I can see, the kids on the dime-sized dance floor are just bouncing around like Red-Bull-charged Muppets on pogo sticks.
Hello, Humor Hits!
Smart and fun to use Elmo, Lucy, Peanuts, and the Muppets.
Notice the amplified simile Laura Drake created in that last example.
…bouncing around like Red-Bull-charged Muppets on pogo sticks.
Not just — bouncing around like Muppets on pogo sticks.
But — bouncing around like Red-Bull-charged Muppets on pogo sticks.
Laura Drake upped the humor. Upped the power.
Remember — If you use allusion, always, always, always consider your readership.
Keep in mind this blog spotlighted one of the twenty-five rhetorical devices covered in-depth in my online class, Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More. That class will be taught in November.
The lecture packets for the Deep Editing course are always available through my website.
Kudos to all the Immersion grads who shared examples for this blog. Love, love, love their stories and their writing!
And – a lovely THANK YOU to the brilliant WITS gals for inviting me to guest blog.
Please post a comment or share a ‘Hi Margie!” and you’ll have two chances to be a winner.
If you POST an example of ALLUSION, I’ll put your name in the drawing twice! If you don’t have one, write one.
You could win a Lecture Packet from me, or an online class from Lawson Writer’s Academy.
Lawson Writer’s Academy – October Classes
- Diving Deep Into Deep POV
- Two-Week Intensive: Show Not Tell
- Ta Da, How to Put Funny on the Page
- Battling the Basics: The Essentials of Writing
- Maximize Your Crazy Easy Author Website
- Write Better Faster
- Editing Magic: Work with a Professional Editor
I’ll draw names for the TWO WINNERS Thursday night, at 9PM, and post them in the comments section.
Thank you soooooo much for being here!
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P.S. – Check out my Immersion cruise for Cruising Writers, Dec. 2–9. Have fun in Montego Bay, Georgetown, and Cozumel. And learn how to add power to your WIP on the four days at sea.
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Margie Lawson — editor and international presenter – teaches writers how to use her psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques to create page turners.
She’s presented over 120 full day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and France, as well as taught multi-day intensives on cruises in the Caribbean.
To learn about Margie’s 5-day Immersion Master Classes (in 2018, in Phoenix, Denver, San Jose area, Dallas, Yosemite, Los Angeles (2), Atlanta, and in Sydney, Melbourne, and Coolangatta, Australia), Cruising Writers cruises, full day and weekend workshops, keynote speeches, online courses through Lawson Writer’s Academy, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit: www.margielawson.com