Writing Tip #82

As if. One commonality I’ve found in writing, mostly fiction writing, in recent years is the use of the phrase, “as if.” I’m not talking about Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. I’m talking about how writers use the phrase to help make vivid comparisons in their writing.

For example, I just opened up Siobhan Fallon’s book, You Know When the Men Are Gone, to a random page and found this:

Moge felt a wave of nausea move through him as if that wad of black was in his own stomach, secreting and rotting.

Here “as if” was used to great effect, conveying a sense of what something feels like, intensifying what actually is happening. I think of the phrase as if (ahem) it were the center of a two-pan scale that’s balancing two vividly different but equal concepts.

However, because “as if” can be so effective, it can be addicting, and you have to be careful of its overuse. I’ve seen authors rely too heavily on the phrase, with “as if” appearing in every other sentence at times. And when readers start to notice writing devices in this way, it can be counterproductive — they can no longer see the forest, or wherever it is you’ve taken them, for the trees.


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