Thursday, October 20, 2011

Metaphorically Speaking – or Not

What I'm reading: Seal Team Six, by Howard E. Wasdin

First – a new contest in my Deals & Steals tab. I've got too many books, and would love to find new homes for them.

Next: I'm over at Beth Groundwater's blog today, responding to her interview questions, one of which requires I reveal something I've never posted anywhere else. 

Note: today's post is based on the kind of reading and writing I do--often referred to as "commercial fiction" to distinguish it from "literary fiction." If you're reading or writing literary fiction, feel free to ignore my observations.

I struggle with descriptions. I don't like metaphors. Or similes. At least I don't like having to come up with good ones. And they have to be good, or they're a waste of time.

Things to watch for:

1. Use the vocabulary of your character, not yours.

Here's a snip from DANGER IN DEER RIDGE. Grinch has brought Elizabeth to his private place in the woods.

“I used to sit here and look at the sky. I knew someday I’d be a pilot.”

“Just the sky?” She swept her arm in a broad circle. “What about the way the water sparkles in the sunlight. And how the aspens dance when the breeze passes through their branches. It’s like the trees are wearing sequined evening gowns.”

He smiled. “I admit, I never conjured up that evening gown image. But yeah, this whole place is … serene, I guess.”

Now, Grinch was brought up in the country, became a pilot, and works for a covert ops team. If he'd been the one describing the scene using Elizabeth's words, would it have worked? I don't think so. (Obviously, because I wrote it with Elizabeth speaking them!)

2. Don't let them slow the pace.
Every time you compare something to something else, you're giving the reader two images to deal with. They have to stop and conjure up the new image, and no matter how good it is, you risk pulling them away from the read for the moment it takes to visualize your comparison.

3. Don't use other people to describe yours.
If your reader has no experience with whomever you're comparing your character to, you can pull them even farther away. Saying, "her lips reminded him of (insert movie star here) won't work at all if your reader hasn't seen or heard of XXX. And it can date your work to boot.

4. Don't overload your reader.
While a good metaphor can evoke an emotional reaction as well as a visual one, they need to be meted out sparingly. I recall the chapter I submitted to my crit partners after taking a workshop from Margie Lawson about how to create these emotion-packed metaphors. They both came back with "overkill!" in their feedback.

How about this one? Both my crit partners thought I'd gone to far, despite the fact that I labored long and hard to find a logical comparison for Ashley, who's a pastry chef. (And now you'll see the reason for today's blog image)

Her mind whirled like a mixer whipping egg whites into meringue.

How would you fix it? (Or do you think it works?)

Tomorrow, we're going on another field trip. But as I write this post, I'm not exactly sure where. Would love some of you to share your pictures. (And doing so enters you in my giveaway!)

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Maryann Miller said...

Thanks for the great reminder to make sure the dialogue is true to the character. I found I had to do a lot of rewriting recently because I started letting two characters have the same voice.

Terry Odell said...

"They" say that you should be able to remove all speaker tags and readers should know who's talking by the dialogue itself. Not sure I'm there yet.

And keeping narrative in the character's voice is another challenge. That's where it's easy for the author to sneak in.

Hales said...

I always would my character say that or am I saying that! Thanks lol!

Elizabeth C. Main said...

Good example of an important point. Dialogue differentiation by character is a harder task than it appears. I have the same problem, so I appreciate all the help I can get. When I'm "in the zone," my characters seem to talk more normally than when I'm forcing them to say things they aren't comfortable with.

Elizabeth C. Main said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Calisa Rhose said...

Interesting post. I often need to remind myself to make sure dialogue and internal thoughts are appropriate to the gender of the character speaking. Some days I think I could write a really great feminine man, or a very manly woman!

Terry Odell said...

Calisa - I usually run my male pov scenes past my husband. Plus one of my CPs is a male (although he's a Brit).