The Art of Meiosis

Joss Whedon at the premiere of Serenity  

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ABAmEl6_Yg

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.