The Art of Meiosis

Joss Whedon at the premiere of Serenity
Joss Whedon at the premiere of Serenity.  A true master of meiosis.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Let me preface this post with the statement that the type of meiosis discussed here is not cell division.  Meiosis is is a euphemistic figure of speech that intentionally understates something or implies that it is lesser in significance or size than it really is.  One of the best examples of this is used in an episode of The Flight of the Conchords:

Most writers find this type of thing difficult, but I would argue that we use this figure of speech much more than we would admit.  We lose our job and say “Oh.  It’s nothing” or we get scratched by a nail or a cat and say the famous “It’s only a flesh wound.”

However, there is an art to using this figure of speech that if well planned can create a humorous tone in our writing that may be needed in the middle of a difficult or violent scene.

A few ways to use this:

1.  Comic Relief – During a very difficult scene in which the character’s lives are in peril, one of the characters might quip a phrase that lightens the intensity of the moment, thereby creating some comic relief without having to write an entire “rest scene” for the characters. I did this lately in my WIP because I didn’t see the possibility of writing a long “rest scene” for my characters because it would have thrown a monkey wrench in the action.

2.  Characterization – Some characters simply do this all the time.  When faced with danger, they wise crack and use meiosis as part of their regular speech patterns.  One of the masters of this technique is Joss Whedon.  His famous use of meiosis in the dialogue of his characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly are worth studying for this technique.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

2 thoughts on “The Art of Meiosis

  1. Occasionally someone will note this sort of thing isn’t realistic, that they’ve never been in a dire situation where people wisecracked or otherwise injected a light note into the proceedings.

    I tell them they need to find wittier people to be in dire situations with in the future.

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