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I'm an aspiring writer and I'm finding it hard to not get swept up "in the moment" of the characters. What are some techniques to avoid superlatives and hyperbole in scenes that are meant to increase excitement?

For example, I'm writing a scene in which my character is explaining his past. The character's past is heavy, and the point at which he explains his past to other characters draws excitement. I'm finding myself getting caught in the trap of hyperbole from the excitement. This cheapens the plot. How do people combat this?

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It depends of the emotions you are trying to evoke when the character explains his past. Do you want the others to pity him, to admire him? Is he proud or ashamed of himself? The style and techniques used can vary depending on that.

Phraseology and sentence length come into this. For example:

If I say something. Something short. But meaningful. It may have a bigger impact on the reader.

And if I suddenly and without warning assault him with longer, more complex sentences not only will I grab his attention but also create dynamism for my scene.

Normally, we don't use one one or the other, but combine them in various ways for maximum effect and to convey the right feeling to the reader.

For your scene, I'd say it would be better to use mostly short sentences, to emphasize on the dramatic (which I think is what you're aiming at) and to create suspense. And, at the right moments in the story, switch to long sentences to change the rhythm (as to not bore your audience with monotony) and create an impression.

Also go low on the words, don't overuse metaphors or hyperboles, but rather hold them for important moments in your narrative to create an impression.

It's a difficult technique to master. I, for one, am very mediocre at it. However, if you get good at it, you'll be able to create a larger palette of scenes, convey more emotions and grab the reader's interest more often.

So, to get to the point, instead of bombarding your reader with hyperboles to evoke emotions on his side, use this technique to create suspense or excitement or whatever you're aiming for, and keep hyperboles and other figures of speech for key moments.

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A common trap for novice writers is to try to build emotion by using lots of superlatives and exclamation marks.

This is a case where the classic advice, "show, don't tell", should be considered. Don't just tell the reader that something is the biggest or the best or the ugliest. Describe it or show it in action so that the reader sees why or how it is the best, etc.

An example I came across on writing that has always stuck with me is this. Consider these two sentences: (a) "She is very lovable." (b) "She is like a cuddly kitten." Which is more effective?

If you need to just get a point across quickly and move on, a simple sentence like, "Bob is the strongest person I know" makes the point. But it would be far more interesting if you actually described some feats of strength. Talk about how the child was trapped under the car in the accident, and Bob lifted the car up with one hand and pulled him out with the other, saving his life. Or some such. If the story is effective, you don't need lots of superlatives or exclamation marks to make the point. (Not that you should never use them, of course. But that you shouldn't use them as a substitute for good descriptive writing.)

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