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Redemption…Literary, That is. – Darby Rae

Redemption…Literary, That is.

When Janet Evanovich named her Stephanie Plum novels Smokin’ Seventeen, To the Nines, or Four to Score, did she reflect…my last title used alliteration, this time I’m using assonance? Did Nora Roberts think, “I need a good hyperbole,” when she wrote, “Panic struck, a knife in the belly,” in The Search?  Or did Harlan Coben ponder ‘simile or metaphor’ when he wrote, “He raises the shovel up and strikes the ground. The blade rips into the earth like it’s wet flesh,” in The Woods?  I think not. Just as Nicholas Sparks did not consider logos, ethos or pathos, before naming his novel The Last Song.

As an author, the tools of my trade are words. Tools I felt fairly skilled in using until it was recently brought to my attention (by a teenage girl who resembles me) that my knowledge of literary terms needs great improvement.

Once my kids entered high school, ‘helping them with homework’ meant bumbling through their text books to re-learn/review formulas, history, definitions, and examples of something I allegedly already learned and should still know. Sometimes I have helped, other times I gave the blank stare of an Alzheimer’s patient. But I’ve justified my faded knowledge saying, “It’s been decades since I used that information.” This typically works…or makes me feel better. Until last week.

My daughter was at home working on Language Arts and called me for some help. (I was driving—no access to The conversation went something like this:

“I need an example of assonance, Mom”

“Can you define assonance? I don’t remember that term.”

“I need one for aphorism too.”

“I don’t remember that term either.”

“What about allusion or anecdote? (Insert condescending tone) Can you give me an example of those?” (Silence) “Mom, you’re an author! You should know these terms.”

“I’m having difficulty hearing you honey…must be a bad…(click).” I knew she was wise to my bad cell reception disengagement tactic, but I had to give my defense some thought.

Have I ever thought, “What this title really needs is an onomatopoeia?” No, I have not. The desired effect is conscious; choice of literary terms is unconscious. (Persuasive opening statement…so I thought on.) Did Mike Wells consciously create tone, theme and assonance in his (highly acclaimed) YA Novel, Wild Child? Probably not, just as E.C. Sheedy likely did not choose personification and foreshadowing before she named her (complex and unpredictable) romantic suspense novel Killing Bliss. Although maybe when George Pappas named his (jaw-dropping) erotica novel Monogamy Sucks, he wanted to create controversy knowing one man’s parody is another man’s hyperbole…or reality. (Terminology is in the eye of the beholder.)

When I arrived home she was working on Algebra, so I lost the opportunity to present my defense.  I did, however, make a copy of her literary terms so I can prepare for my literary redemption.



  1. Ha! Love this…and your sense of humor! How our children can so easily knock us off our pedestals is still life’s greatest mystery! 😉

  2. My husband is on the thirty year plan for his B.S., A few semesters back he took his English Comp II and asked for my help. It was a shocker the things I had forgotten or never learned about the English language (maybe humbling is a better word). I was outraged when one of his papers( that I helped him with) didn’t get an A! I had never received a B when I was in college, and couldn’t believe I (he) was getting one now!!
    I soothed my ego by deciding his professor was a tough grader.

    • Better it was your husband and a college course than a child in middle school! I have a story similar to yours, but my son was in 5th grade. He lost several points because “Mom can’t punctuate dialogue right.” My editor would whole-heartedly agree!

      And for the record…there are many more ‘tough graders” in college than when I went. I have several friends who are on the multi-decade college program as well. Their assignments are extremely rigorous!

  3. Of course, I considered “personification and foreshadowing” before naming Killing Bliss. Took weeks of sleepless nights to come up with that literarily prescient title. LOL

    What a great post! But dear goddess, there’s nothing like an earnest student of literature to put the spurs to a tired writer’s brain cells, is there?

    (And onomatopoeia? Seriously? That sounds too much like a skin disease involving lesions to suit me.)

    EC (still smiling)

    • How many sleepless nights did you have naming Over Her Dead Body? I just ordered it and can’t wait for it to arrive. And I think an onomatopoeia sounds like a bug with too many legs to count…bug or skin disease…it does sound undesirable! LOL.

      Yes, my daughter does like to put the stick in the cage, but she was also my biggest source of inspiration at home alternating from encouraging me to shaming me into finishing Merciful Law. I wouldn’t be surprised if she writes her first YA novel before she goes to college. Hmmm competition on the home front…that would make for an interesting blog = )

  4. Darby, of COURSE I was thinking about assonance when I was writing Wild Child, practically every day, when I was making nugatory conjunctures. 🙂 I teach creative writing, and it’s my belief that all this terminology was developed to describe what writers do after-the-fact by people analyzing the writing trying to figure out how the author managed to do whatever he/she did. Great blog post! And many thanks for mentioning Wild Child.

    • Silly me…you certainly did this on purpose. If for no other reason than to serve as a concrete example to your student that you can both “do” and “teach!” My teens would disagree with your belief regarding the creation of terminology. They would bet their allowance these terms were created by teachers/professors to further inflict academic punishment on their students.

      Wild Child is a great book, and it is the perfect length…so glad you didn’t add another 15,000 words! I see you are offering a FREE download of Wild Child…and the sequel is out. Looking forward to reading Wild Child, Book 2 – Lilith.

  5. LOOL! I soooo am not looking forward to these homework sessions! LOL Best wishes with your redemption! 🙂 Cute post!

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