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Monday, April 25, 2011

Understatement

And so begins the last week of the A to Z Challenge. My alphabetical dictionary of literary devices is almost complete, as is Netty's story. Keep visiting to see how it all turns out. For anyone just joining the thread, start at the April 1st post and read forward through the My Try section to catch up with Netty.

Understatement: Succinctly, it is the opposite of hyperbole (exaggeration). Understatement allows the writer to show appreciation for his readers' intellect and works most effectively where tension has been built so that there is something to understate. To say that the April A to Z Challenge was child's play is an understatement ( as well as a cliche).

An Example from Literature: C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

And you, who have told me a hundred times how deeply you pitied me for the sorceries by which I was bound, will doubtless hear with joy that they are now ended for ever. There was, it seems, some small error in your Ladyship's way of treating them.


My Try: After hearing Netty's piece, Lou Ellen stood and straightened her skirt. Then her back stiffened at the sound of the front door slamming. She'd forgotten all about Roy coming home for lunch.
 
"Well, hey girls," he waltzed into the room, oblivious to the wire about to snap. "What y'all up to on this fine afternoon. Sakes, you'd never know by today what a whirl last night was." He looked Netty up and down, appraising her slender figure handsomly set atop tan legs and noticed for the first her hollow eyes. Lord almighty, he mumbled under his breath, she is here about that Junior League mess.
 
Lou Ellen dropped her chin, then lifted her face, softened, to her husband. She bubbled, "Hey Roy, Netty here was just telling me the cutest story about a couple of babies mixed up at birth." Gushing, Lou Ellen continued, "But I think she forgot the punchline of her little joke. When you remembah it you call me, now, Netty, you heah," escorting Netty steadily out the door.
 
May as well have been whispering in a pig's ear, Netty told no one as she reentered the day, her distaste for Lou Ellen invigorated. Oh, but she had something; something her mother couldn't find in the ice at the bottom of a highball glass or in the bed of deceit. Something that, nonetheless, her mother had gifted without even intending to; an inheritance of sorts.

Why does understatement work to advance a story? Do you have any good examples of understatement? What "inheritance" did Netty's mother leave her?
(This blog post is brought to you as a part of the April A to Z Challenge.)

April 26th - Verbal Irony

17 comments:

the writing pad said...

Hi,
Thanks for another great post - I believe Netty's 'inheritance' is more abstract than real, possibly some element of her mother's character, which, whilst possibly being undesirable in the mother, will now stand Netty in good stead?

shelly said...

I love your Southern voice. Now a follower. And thanks for stopping by my blog.

Lauracea said...

I'm so curious about Netty's inheritance - I think I missed Mama's letter, so I'd better check yesterday's post! Understatement is great for irony (think: Oscar Wilde). I don't know where this came from (Jane Austen?), but I've noted it down: "Henry and Catherine were married,the bells rang and everyone was happy. To begin perfect happiness at 26 and 18 is to do pretty well."

Josh Hoyt said...

I like the look of your blog and look forward to following.

Laura Eno said...

Possibly Netty is stronger for having to endure the shame of her mother's death?

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Another wonderful post. A pleasure to visit.
Yvonne,

Lucy Adams said...

I think it's only fair, since Netty's story has unraveled in a series of short posts, to tell you that the crux of the letter is revealed in the understatement. Unfortunately, Lou Ellen makes light of the information Netty gives her.

The story might have turned out completely different if Lou Ellen hadn't so easily dismissed Netty for convenience's sake and to save her own reputation.

Thank you for continuing to read.

Lucy

Hart Johnson said...

I adore understatement as a story device! I think it is especially useful for adding a little humor to otherwise tense situations. I like hyperbole, too, but hyperbole I think should be limited to a character or two--exaggerators make great characters, but poor narrators.

I think you did well with it!

Brianna said...

Netty and Lou Ellen were switched at birth? Wow.
It figures the big reveal would happen as understatement! Very clever of you!

Sarah Allan said...

Great use of U! You have a new follower as well, Lucy. Thanks for stopping by my blog! :-)

xoxo Sarah

Paula Martin said...

I much prefer understatement to hyperbole. It can have a far more dramatic effect.
Thanks for visiting my blog. Will follow yours now!

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Thanks for the wonderful comment you ao kindly wrote,

Yvonne.

M Pax said...

I loved this line "her distaste for Lou Ellen invigorated".

Dawn M. Hamsher said...

Lucy,
I've fallen behind in my visiting, but I want you to know that I will be back. Your blog is so much fun, I want to attempt them all when things slow down a bit.

Lumina said...

I love understatements used in stories; they're nice and sort of quiet, but they can still say a lot when used well--I really like the way it's used in your story.
Postscript: Thank you so much for visiting my blog!

Ellie said...

I can't believe we are in the last week already. May will seem so quiet!

Loved this post. Your comments always make me stop and think. Understatements show us we don't always need to make big grand statements to move the story forward.

Ellie Garratt

Pk Hrezo said...

This is a great post. I think the understatement is so important in respecting the reader's intellect. Mainly, because what keeps me reading is to find out for sure if I'm on target with what I believe to be true of the story. I love it when I'm right. And I love when the author believes I'm smart enough to catch on. It

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