We’ve been dwelling on paradoxical tropes over the past few posts. Today, let’s get personal.
When you want to describe any person memorably, toss in bad and good ingredients of their personality and let them have at it. This is especially true of someone you dislike. Watch the difference between a 100-percent evil description and one that’s a little more ambiguous.
Evil: She had a thin, quick, mean look about her—scary-looking even when she smiled, which was rare.
Ambiguous: She was lithe and smart and quick as a whippet, with the rare smile that a whippet makes just before it bites.
The Evil version is conversational, descriptive, and blandly unmemorable. The second version condemns the victim to an infamous eternity by starting out pleasantly—creating tension.
Frederic William Henry Myers mixed used paradox to describe St. Paul.
The line makes us shiver. Whether you think Myers is playing fair or not, the technique is flawless: bad paired with good in each balanced phrase. You don’t have to be nearly as literary to be memorable. Just think of a way to balance the good and bad side of every trait.