Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Metaphorically Speaking

I am a *metaphor and simile junkie. I love to read them. I love to write them. A well written metaphor is—hands down—one of my favorite things in literature.

A metaphor can add depth and description to your writing which you can get no other way. But they can be tricky.

My rules for metaphors:

Does it make sense for the story? – My WIP takes place in a world of my own creation, but it is set in a time around 1500-1600’s. I have to be careful to only use metaphors that work in these parameters.

Example: Their voices grated against each other like sandpaper. – Not too bad, but this simile doesn’t work because there was no sandpaper in my time period.

Almost all my metaphors are about nature. My characters spend a lot of time in the forest so it makes sense that they would notice nature and think about how it applies to them.

Example: The crimson sun cut into the earth, its rays bleeding into the diming twilight, soaking the sky and fading to pink. – My MC has just gone through a very traumatic experience, so I believe that she would notice the violence of the sunset.

Does it add something to the story? – I try to write metaphors that enrich the story, reveal feelings, or enhance description.

Example: Tears splattered her dress, leaving dark spots on the fabric—each mark a testimony of her regret, witnesses of what had happened, and wishes for what had not. – I hope the metaphor helps to show just how deep and complicated her feelings are.

Does it add to the characters voice? – I’ve cut great metaphors and similes from my story because it’s my thought as the author and not the thought of my character. I have to stop and think, “Would my MC really think that?”

Example: Like an ill-fitting garment, it pinched in all the wrong places. – This is how my MC looks at the world, in ideas she is familiar with.

Don’t use mixed metaphors! – Yikes. If you start with one idea finish with the same idea:

Example: All at once he was alone in this noisy hive with no place to roost. (Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities) Do you see it? He started with bees but ended with chickens. I think the one exception to this rule is if you are mixing on purpose—a character quirk or comedic relief.

Metaphors and similes are fantastic seasonings to a story—adding spice and flavor just where you want it J

Happy writing


*A simile is a metaphor, but not all metaphors are similes. A metaphor is an implied comparison to suggest a resemblance, and simile does this using the words like or as.


Sara Bulla said...

Awesome post! I have my WIP in my head...wondering if I have littered it with too many metaphors. I am all about Metaphors and similes now. They are addictive! Great post!

Lora R. Rivera said...

Lol! I love your Don't Mix 'Em example. Bees and chickens.

Great post. This is a very important part of writing. My crit group adores to point out when I've beem metaphorically sloppy. Which is SUCH a good thing, too! Sometimes, despite doing our best, we overlook some real godawful mistakes. Helps to have an extra few pairs of eyes.

Thanks for the link! (Saw this on your 7X7 post)

Lora R. Rivera said...

Re: godawful mistakes
*beem = being

And how am I not following your blog???

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