Metaphorically Speaking…

Ever metaphor you didn’t like? Wait, no – but yes, maybe I did.

(That was lame.)

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

What make a good metaphor, cultural or otherwise?

—Jaime Latcheson, Franklin, Pa.

Whoa. People don’t ask such questions these days. Most just assume that can write because they can string a sentence together. Bravo.

This could make for a whole series, but I’ll pass.

Extended metaphor

This is where you “come out and say it” by not saying it, a la Moby-Dick in Moby-Dick (an extended metaphor about, the universe or something) or the Mississippi River in [anything by Mark Twain]. Like a symbol, it’s presence pervades, backdropping the story with underlying, unspoken meaning.

So make it big, but not obvious. A mural explaining the character’s history? A wall of hieroglyphics? No.

Apprehension

Metaphor is both won and lost on its audience. Good luck if you’re plying your trade in science fiction and fantasy, because only you will get the references if you’re writing about “her eyes were bluish, time-refractive orbs that shone with the steadfastness of a pulse controller,” or “Charl’s reign was a fire-coated, scorpion-tailed Wyrxshith raining down spite and misery upon the peasants.”

Make it recognizable, unless your readers are you. 

Getting too fancy

Let’s take this example (from Wikipedia, no less): “The man’s arm exploded with pain, spiderwebs of fire crawling up and down its length as the tire of a passing car crushed it.

Exploded with pain? I get that.

Spiderwebs of fire? Huh? You lost me. I don’t care if you’re aiming for shape. Even if you’re able to get a spiderweb to burn for longer than a second, I’ll be damned if you get it to crawl.

Getting creative

“Her face radiated, a rising sun of happiness working her way through her dainty features.”

“He stared ice cold into the obsidian rock of night.”

Oh. My. God. I have never before seen happiness compared to sunrise, nor cold compared to staring before! You must be a genius, an unparalleled craftsman among writers. I would never have thought to join such images. Amazing.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

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