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
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.
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.
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).
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…
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!