Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman
Ian Fleming’s James Bond spy novels are thrillers. A clever as well as a talented author, Fleming uses diction (word choice) to reinforce, in an almost subliminal manner, the genre in which he writes. His adjectives, images, and metaphors remind readers, in subtle and inconspicuous ways, that they are reading an action-packed thriller. Horror writers can learn to use the same techniques and methods as Fleming uses, adapting them to their own genre.
The protagonist of The Spy Who Loved Me, Vivienne Michel, a young Canadian woman who seeks to escape her own past, describes the setting of the novel, the pine forest in which The Dreamy Pines Motor Court that she manages stands. “Wild maples flamed here and there like shrapnel-bursts” (003), she writes in her diary. It seems unlikely that a young woman would use military terminology to describe the fall foliage of maple trees, but Fleming’s description of these trees as looking like “shrapnel-bursts” reminds readers that the novel they are reading is not a romance--or not merely a romance--in which boy meets girl, but a thriller, in which there is likely to be gunplay, death, and destruction. The description is both a reminder that the book is a thriller and a promise of thrills to come.
In the first part of the same sentence that provides this stark military image, Fleming’s protagonist offers readers another, an implicit metaphor that compares the forest to a marching army: “Now, in the billion-strong army of pine trees that marched away northwards towards the Canadian border, the real, wild maples flamed here and there like shrapnel-bursts” (003). The forest is an army at war, its artillery bursting in bright autumn foliage.
Military imagery is combined with police imagery, word pictures that are a bit closer, perhaps, to Bond’s own vocation as an espionage agent, or spy: “And I felt that I, or at any rate my skin, had changed just as much--from the grimy sallowness that had been the badge of my London life (004). Did you notice the subtle reference to the “badge”?
Vivienne continues to pepper her descriptions of the pine forest with military images and metaphors, finding that “the way” the “jagged shapes” of the trees “mass closely together gives” her “the impression of an army of spears barring my passage” (005). She also uses adjectives that refer to either military or to police objects, or to both, describing “a longer gust” of wind, during a gathering storm, as bringing “with it the whisper of a metallic squeak” and “the gunmetal surface” of an agitated lake (007).
Other phrases extend the basic military and police references, again and again, reminding the reader both that he or she is reading a thriller and implying that thrills of the sort that are familiar to Bond’s admirers will be forthcoming: “sentinel trees,” a “camp-fire” (008), a “guard dog,” “thunder“ that executes an “ambush,” “one, single, colossal explosion. . . [that] might have been a huge bomb” (009), and thunder that sounds like “a furious cannonade” (010).
By using words that create images and metaphors that convey a sense of horror, as Edgar Allan Poe does, for example, in nearly all his stories, and as such other masters of the genre as Bram Stoker, H. P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, and Ray Bradbury typically do, a writer of horror stories can remind his or her reader that he or she has trespassed upon the realm of terror while, at the same time, promising ghastly and dreadful chills to come. Diction, carefully selected and employed, is a rhetoric of tone and mood.