Photo: W.Tipton - (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Photo: W.Tipton – (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Tim Latimer: He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun.

John Smith: Stop it.
Tim Latimer: He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and can see the turn of the universe.
John Smith: Stop it, I said stop it!
Tim Latimer: and… he’s wonderful.
– Doctor Who, The Family of Blood, IMDB

Stirred

Isn’t it amazing that something so fictional can evoke something so not?
It’s the sort of art that makes you wonder.

What kind of person can be described like that?
Can I meet him?
Can I be him?

What would my life look like if I thought about Jesus like that?

And that’s what I’m talking about.

This is a fictional television show.
No religious agenda.
No philosophical mantra.

But here I am, thinking. Maybe even re-evaluating some tenants of my life.

Why?

Because an artist did something particularly clever. It’s like they’re holding up a sign saying “Look! Look! Here’s something bigger than a day job, bigger than the drama of life, and all you need is this lens that I’m holding to see it.”

And then they hand it to you, and let your own auto-focus take over.

Let’s take a closer look at why this line is so ridiculously effective.

Photo: ESO - (CC BY 2.0)
Photo: ESO – (CC BY 2.0)

Construction

There’s a LOT going on from a literary standpoint. For starters, both lines utilize the power of three, and John Smith’s lines serve as a caesura (a pause for dramatic effect) for the lines of Tim Latimer.

He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun.

Say the whole line aloud. Now repeat it, but add “and love” to the first sentence.

It doesn’t work.

Fire, ice, and rage all carry an intense, even hard, connotation (like sear, scar, flint, sleet, or steel). Throwing ‘love’ or ‘peace’ into the mix fails despite being valid antonyms for ‘rage’. Additionally, having to say ‘and’ three times makes the sentence laborious and therefore less effective.

What’s also interesting is that every word in these two sentences has only one syllable. The effect is a line that can be delivered at an even pace. Try to exchange the word ‘atrium’ for ‘heart’ and re-read it aloud. The rhythm (a demonstration of long and short patterns through stressed and unstressed syllables) is adversely affected.

Note that this is all said in simile (a comparison using like or as). Tim’s second line turns up the heat a bit as we switch to metaphor (a comparison using is).

Photo: Trevor Dobson - (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Photo: Trevor Dobson – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and can see the turn of the universe.

He is. He burns. He can see.
Again, a power of three, but we’re no longer making a suggestion at what he’s like. This is who he is. Since it’s a more confident line, it carries more punch.

and… he’s wonderful.

The line terminates with a juxtaposition (the creation of a parallel between two things with an aim to highlight contrast) of wonderful with all the intensity of the preceding lines.

Now to write like that…

Photo: Jason Carpenter - (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Photo: Jason Carpenter – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

DIY

For practice, let’s imagine that you are Steven Moffat, and you are needing to rewrite this line for a completely different subject matter. John Smith’s lines will remain unchanged, but you have to fill in Tim’s lines. Before the quote, be sure to tell us what you picked as a subject, and what rules you chose to adhere to.

Here are the rules (pick 2):

1) The first and second lines may contain only two sentences.
2) The first line must be said in simile.
3) The second line must be said in metaphor.
4) There must be at least one use of juxtaposition.
5) There must be at least two usages of the power of three.

Cross that fourth wall and into the comments!

21 thoughts

  1. I tried to keep my adjustment plausibly within the Doctor Who universe, and from the same characters. But working around John Smith’s unchanged lines proved quite difficult. So I decided to describe a ghost of some sort, but leave the actual situation reasonably similar: they both see evidence of some phenomenon greater than 1913 England (a ghost, here), and John denies his part in it. Because I followed the original structure so closely, I think I kept within all five rules.

    Tim Latimer: It was a ghost, sir. She was pale as the morning frost, faint as a summer fog, quiet as an empty sky.
    John Smith: Stop it.
    Tim Latimer: You saw her too, sir. Her hair was a rope of ice, her fingers talons of hate, and her eyes pits of death.
    John Smith: Stop it, I said stop it!
    Tim Latimer: and yet… she was beautiful.

    1. Well done! I think you did that, and you even used two instances of a power of three (frost, fog, sky; ice, hate, death). I especially liked how you leveraged the repetition of as; using it three times made the sentence more effective.

      What’s funny is that I almost made a rule regarding the number of syllables that could be used in the first line, but didn’t because I felt it was a little too tedious and therefore distracting from what I’m trying to spotlight. However, every word you used had exactly one syllable, except for the adjectives (morning, summer, empty) which all contained exactly two (followed by nouns which contained only one). I think the symmetry made the sentence particularly effective as it reads aloud beautifully!!

      By a similar rubric in which I judged Moffat’s line, if I were to exchange ‘fog’, for example, with ‘heatwave’ (or some other two syllable word) it would destroy that symmetry.

      The last thing that you did that I think was subtle, was your use of alliteration (frost, faint, fog). I think because ‘f’ is such a hard (almost caustic) sound when spoken it adds to the edginess of the line.

      Again, well done! I think it was beautifully successful! 🙂

    1. Haha – you’re welcome 🙂

      Three reasons why you should have them post their assignments here as a comment:

      1) Just knowing about this site could help them engage with the creative writing around them.
      2) It allows every student to see the work of their peers so A: cheaters are easy to spot, and B: there’s lots of examples!
      3) I’ll help you grade. Since I’ll be commenting on their post as well – they’ll get some outside coaching as I can give critique and offer positive feedback.

      🙂

  2. I hope I stuck to all the rules! In this scenario Tim is describing God to John–John fearing his eminent fall from a life all his own to a life surrendered to God fights Tim, but Tim can already see that his God will not cease until John knows who He is.

    Tim Latimer: He is like wind and sound and awe. He is like fire to your ways and flood to your soul and blood in your veins.
    John Smith: Stop it.
    Tim Latimer: He is the mountain high above your city, bearing the power of life and death in it’s snowy banks. His mercy alone holds the avalanche of His holiness from burying your world as the warmth of His love fills your streams with living water.
    John Smith: Stop it, I said stop it!
    Tim Latimer: He cannot be stopped.

    1. Way to go Calen!! Sure enough – you got ’em all! Nice.

      I think there’s gold in each of the lines here. Based on the text that you sent, I’ll do what I can to offer some critique as well:

      Tim Latimer: He is like wind and sound and awe. He is like fire to your ways and flood to your soul and blood in your veins.

      Picking wind, sound, and awe is great because you can’t see any of them. Perfect since you’re describing God. I think the second part of your sentence starts strong:
      ‘fire to your ways’, and ‘flood to your soul’. Both are intense, powerful, and carry implications beyond the mere description (as following God does). However, ‘blood in your veins’ seemed a little awkward. I can tell you’re going for a power of three, but reaching for a literary device at the expense of the overall flow isn’t a good idea. Read your version out loud, and then read this version:

      Tim Latimer: He is like wind and sound and awe. He is like fire to your ways and flood to your soul.

      Your second line:

      He is the mountain high above your city, bearing the power of life and death in it’s snowy banks. His mercy alone holds the avalanche of His holiness from burying your world as the warmth of His love fills your streams with living water.

      If I were your critique partner, and you had sent me this, I would have just made a comment that would read “tighten”. All that means is that you have a solid idea going, but it’s too wordy and needs to be cleaned up a bit. I think this is a solid idea because God pictured as a mountain ‘high above your city’ almost has a protective feel to it (compared to ‘looming’ which I think is more ominous), and that idea is so well developed by the imagery of the avalanche. What I particularly liked about the line is how it ‘avalanches’ itself: ‘snowy banks’, ‘avalanche’, ‘burying’, ‘fills’. Still, it needs to be tightened up – as an example:

      Tim Latimer: He is mountain, and life and death are in His snowy banks. Your city below is saved only by mercy. Mercy that holds the avalanche of holiness back from burying your world.
      John Smith: Stop it, I said stop it!
      Tim Latimer: Living water cannot be stopped.

      You give it a shot! I think I may have cut out a bit too much (I think I lost the ‘protective’ feel and slipped into a more ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ feel…). This was tough! (I’m still not happy with my version) I’ll tell ya man, sometimes you’ll stare at lines like this – writing, rewriting, writing, rewriting. Every iteration brings you closer to the story you were meant to tell. There’s an exercise in this post that I offered as a way to practice this.

      1. Ok, Round two for me. Don’t refrain from refining if you can!

        Tim Latimer: He is like wind and sound and awe. He is like fire to your ways and flood to your soul.
        John Smith: Stop it.
        Tim Latimer: The mountain high above your city, the power of life and death in His snowy banks, His avalanche of Holiness looms to bury your world.
        John Smith: Stop it, I said stop it!
        Tim Latimer: He stops it! In His mercy He refrains from destruction. In His love He sustains with streams of living water!

        1. Suhweet!!

          I’m digging Tim’s second line – I think the only changes I’d make would be to add a verb between “death” and “in” to add a little more clarity for the metaphor. Outside of that, I think that line is good to go!
          I still like how Tim’s final line takes John’s request in a different direction (John is wanting him to stop talking rather than stopping the avalanche). I’d keep that. I’m wondering if the last two sentences can be torqued down any more though?

          Like, “He stops it! His mercy restrains destruction. His love sustains with living water!” or something. It’s super close…

          Way to go bro! 🙂

  3. Tim Latimer: She shines like the sun and the moon and the stars. She shines like a candle that never goes out.
    John Smith: But stars and candles will go out.
    Tim Latimer: She is a flame that flickers with love and rage and passion. She could burn anything…
    John Smith: Put out the fire!
    Tim Latimer: … and yet she is quiet.

    1. Nicely done AC!
      There’s two particularly interesting things you’ve got going on here: I thought the phrase “like a candle that never goes out”, made the line particularly interesting as well as the use of ellipses in the second. It’s as though Tim’s thoughts are trailing off as he’s imaging what she could do.

      A few changes I think you could make to make this more effective:
      1) Try writing it so that John’s second response (‘Put out the fire’) seems a bit more believable. His first line sets him up to be curious of what Tim is presenting, but his second line seems to ignore that curiosity.
      2) Tim’s last line ignores John’s exclamation. Try picturing two people you know having this conversation. If you can’t imagine it, your reader can’t either.
      3) I think you’re going for juxtapositioning in the last line (i.e. you used the word ‘yet’). However, flickering flames are usually pretty quiet – try using an adjective with a bit more contrast.

      All in all – great go at it!

      Keep writing,

      Avery

  4. Tim Latimer: It is as eternal and infinite as God. It is majestic, it is empty, and it is bright yet as dark as the deep abyss.
    John Smith: Stop it.
    Tim Latimer: Its splendor can only be viewed from afar. It is the unattainable dream, it is the unreachable end, and it is the everlasting beginning.
    John Smith: Stop it, I said stop it!
    Tim Latimer: Space…the final frontier.

    1. COOL STUFF TANNER!

      Alright, I’m digging how your line starts, and the juxtaposition of majestic and empty. I don’t think I’ve ever connected those two!

      The only feedback I have on your first line is the abrupt change from “bright” to “yet.” This shift was a little awkward for me as I couldn’t quite read that part out loud without downshifting (try it yourself, you’ll get what I mean).

      Your second line stuck out to me because of the way you set up ‘everlasting’ – this was great! Both ‘unattainable’ and ‘unreachable’ are negative, the switch to the positive was clean and effective – nice!

  5. Tim Latimer: He’s like heaven and hell and holy. He’s like the dark and the light that cleans your soul.
    John Smith: Stop it.
    Tim Latimer: He’s beginning and end. He lives in your heart and dies when you no longer seek him.
    John Smith: Stop it, I said stop it!
    Tim Latimer: and… he loves you.

    1. I fixed it,
      Tim Latimer: He’s like heaven and hell and holiness. He’s like the flame and the water that cleans your soul.
      John Smith: Stop it.
      Tim Latimer: He’s beginning and end. He lives in your heart and dies when you no longer seek him.
      John Smith: Stop it, I said stop it!
      Tim Latimer: and… he loves you.

    2. Killer. I liked the alliteration with heaven, hell, and holy – well done! I thought the idea presented by ‘dies when you no longer seek him’ was particularly interesting to think about. Good stuff man!

  6. Tim: He’s like the light and dark and pain in us all. He’s the humanity in a monster.
    John Smith: Stop it, he’s nothing.
    Tim: He’s everything. He fights when others can’t, and stands when others fall… he’s a hero.
    John Smith: But…Heroes die.
    Tim: Legends don’t.

    1. This. Was pretty awesome 🙂
      I think you did a great job writing it out as a dialogue. I can see two characters discussing the merits of the protagonist in the pouring rain. As if one is convincing the other ‘hey, this guy is for real – we should trust him’.

      Cool moment well captured.

      The only thing I was toying with was changing John Smith’s line away from the use of a contraction (you would also need to change Tim’s line to keep the response effective).

      “Stop it, he is nothing.”
      “He is everything…”

      eh..I can’t decide. Thoughts?

  7. I fixed it,
    Tim Latimer: He’s like heaven and hell and holiness. He’s like the flame and the water that cleans your soul.
    John Smith: Stop it.
    Tim Latimer: He’s beginning and end. He lives in your heart and dies when you no longer seek him.
    John Smith: Stop it, I said stop it!
    Tim Latimer: and… he loves you.

  8. Tim Latimer: He’s like home and hell and rage. He’s like the wind and the waves in the heart of the storm.
    John Smith: Leave him.
    Tim Latimer: He’s mundane and worldly. He longs for love and worships money.
    John Smith: Leave him, stop this foolishness!
    Tim Latimer: and…he’s exigent.

    1. ea,

      I’m digging the ‘home’ juxtaposing with ‘hell’ – I thought that was particularly effective as an opener. Moving Moffat’s line away from planets and stars and into the more relatable context of an actual thunderstorm was also effective. Nice.

      Tim’s second line takes an unexpected shift especially when combined with the third “and…he’s exigent” as I was half-expecting a softer adjective. Still, because ‘home’ has such a positive connotation you flipped the structure of the juxtaposition (you started with something positive – home, and everything else you said was negative – hell, rage, mundane, etc).

      I think moving ‘home’ from the first line, and exigent to the second might be a good change:

      Tim Latimer: He’s like hell and rage. He’s like the wind and the waves in the heart of the storm.
      John Smith: Leave him.
      Tim Latimer: He’s mundane and worldly. He is exigent.
      John Smith: Leave him, stop this foolishness!
      Tim Latimer: and…he’s home.

      Let me know what you think!

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