February 10, 2010

How Not to Write a Metaphor

Posted in Creativity, Tools of the Trade at 12:02 am by jajohnson7

In case you forgot your high school English classes, here is the difference between a metaphor and a simile:

metaphor: (n.) a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance, as in “A mighty fortress is our God.”

simile: (n.) a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared, as in “she is like a rose.”

In case you were too lazy to read that, or you didn’t understand it: a metaphor uses “is,” while a simile uses “like” or “as.”

The trick to writing a metaphor or simile is to come up with a striking image, which is harder to do than it sounds. You want to avoid overused phrases like “her voice was angelic” or “the waves crashed on the shore.” But you also don’t want to throw your reader out of the story by mashing your images.

Below are some *ahem* colorful examples of real metaphors/similes that people used in their essays. (If these catch your fancy…well…more power to you!) Either way, enjoy!

Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two other sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

McMurphy fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a paper bag filled with vegetable soup.

Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.

His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a tumble dryer.

She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook latches that used to dangle from doors and would fly up whenever you banged the door open again.

The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the centre.

He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.

Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left York at 6:36 p.m. travelling at 55 mph, the other from Petersborough at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the full stop after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

The thunder was ominous sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.

The red brick wall was the colour of a brick-red crayon.

Even in his last years, Grandpa had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long it had rusted shut.

Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

The plan was simple, like my brother Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

Her artistic sense was exquisitely refined, like someone who can tell butter from “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.”

She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like the sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

It came down the stairs looking very much like something no one had ever seen before.

The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a lamppost.

The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free cashpoint.

The dandelion swayed in the gentle breeze like an oscillating electric fan set on medium.

It was a working class tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with their power tools.

He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a dustcart reversing.

She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature British beef.

She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.

The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.

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February 8, 2010

Dungeons & Doldrums

Posted in Creativity, Tales from the Author's Desk at 11:12 am by jajohnson7

At some point in the fantasy writing universe, everyone decided it would be awesome to write a high adventure story about a boy who was secretly a king team up with fighters, thieves, mages, and priests to defeat the villain taking over the medieval-based world. Since when did we (the writing community) allow Dungeons & Dragons to overrun our creativity?

Don’t get me wrong. I love playing D&D and other rpgs. But I am so tired of seeing the same plots over and over again. And if it’s not the same plot, it’s the same setting with the same characters. Thieves with hearts of gold, priests questioning their god(s), mages learning to harness their ultimate powers, etc. I’m sure these were good characters at one point (maybe in the mid-fifties), but now they’re just dull cliches.

Cliches can have their uses, however. For my NaNoWriMo novel, I took those basic characters (prince, mage, thief) in the medieval setting, and turned them on their head. I had the omniscient narrator of the story step up and take over the novel. Granted, I could probably do a lot more with it than I did, but that’s for editing to sort through.

But glancing through other books, where did the creativity go? It’s like people just gave up and decided to follow Tolkien’s example, complete with elves, dwarves, and orcs (which can also be found in D&D).

Please, do yourself and your readership a favor: take the time and effort to build an original world.

February 6, 2010

Snowmageddon in Practice

Posted in Updates at 1:11 pm by jajohnson7

I’ve nearly finished using the Snowflake Method to outline my novel. I still need to figure out that fourth quarter of the book. It didn’t take as much time as it could have because I’d already sorted out my main characters and just needed to decide on / create the series of events that make up the actual plot. Then I accidentally skipped a step and went straight into the multi-paragraph description. Oops. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you obviously didn’t check out the link from yesterday. Shame on you!)

Today I’m taking advantage of the snow-in to write the first chapter. I’ve added a Progress Box on the side *points to the right* to keep me accountable. It works too. As soon as I added it I felt embarrassed about that huge glaring “Wordcount: 0” and immediately started writing.

The one disadvantage the snow-in is giving my writing? The frequent stops to shovel what’s fallen since the last time I shoveled.

February 5, 2010

Snowmageddon Methodology

Posted in Tools of the Trade at 8:54 am by jajohnson7

If, like me, you are going to be snowed in this weekend, take advantage of the time and get some snow-inspired outlining and writing done. I am, of course, referring to the Snowflake Method.

The Snowflake Method helps the writer build and organize their novel from the ground up. Conceptually, the process looks something like this:

Snowflake Iteration 1 Snowflake Iteration 2 Snowflake Iteration 3 Snowflake Iteration 4

By the last step, you have a “snowflake” made up of all the information you need to get writing constructively. In this process, you start with one broad sentence, and end up with several pages of details. It takes a lot of work, and a lot of time, but which one of those do you have the most of this weekend?

I used this method for my NaNoWriMo novel and it worked so well. I went from having a vague notion of how to get from A to Z to having an outline which, while not as detailed as it could have been, provided me with a solid framework with which to write. It gave me the structure of a story arc, but allowed me the chance to embellish as I wrote. It even helped me with character developments/arcs.

Granted, it doesn’t work for everyone. But I plan on re-visiting it to help me figure out where to go with my current Project. (I finally have a beginning, but what then?) Try it, and see what happens!

[Excellent! I managed to refrain from making the joke that just as every snowflake is unique, so is every nov –

– crap.]

February 3, 2010

Poetic Games

Posted in Creativity at 1:18 pm by jajohnson7

A few days ago, I stumbled onto a social networking site for writers. At MYKUWorld, people converse in…well…verse! You have four lines to write about whatever you want, and can link these small poems to others. I think it’s worth checking out.

It also reminds me of a game I used to play on a forum. One person posts a haiku about a person, object, or location (in this case, from the show that the forum centered around) and the others would have to guess what the haiku described. These haiku could be very simple, or very obscure, but it was always fun to puzzle out the subject.

I’m not normally a poet. I don’t write heart-wrenching lines about my existence and stuff them into the dark drawers of oblivion that is my room. I took a poetry class in college once, but that was because I didn’t get into the fiction writing class.

Poetry once in a while, however, and with a purpose (a game or a contest, for example) can be fun and challenging to non-poets, especially when you use meter. Any writer will tell you that poetry doesn’t need to rhyme or have a specific meter, but blank verse doesn’t interest me precisely because of that lack of a challenge. It’s just prose with lots of returns between sentences.

Try writing an Italian sonnet about an Aztec sacrifice. Now that‘ll get the creative juices flowing.

February 1, 2010

The Dark Elven Lord of Aathylvin…Bob

Posted in Tales from the Author's Desk at 10:58 am by jajohnson7

Ah, the mysteries (and pronunciation problems) of fantasy names. Is there anything more likely to send the un-initiated screaming in the other direction as if chased by the basset hounds of hell themselves?

But which do you prefer? The Saruman’s and Eowyn’s, or the Harry’s and Percy’s. Maybe you’re like Tamora Pierce, whose first quartet has names like Alanna and George, but whose latest features Beka and Rosto. Maybe, a la Order of the Stick, humans have “normal” names and other species don’t.

I have always preferred the strange names. They just…radiate fantastical elements. It wasn’t until I was trying to invent decent names for my current project’s characters that I realized how much trouble it is.

I have always had trouble with names. I once had a baby doll named – wait for it – Baby. I had the bear from the Snuggles commercials. When I saw he had a name on his tag already, he officially became: Snuggles.

So why should writing be any different? I’m constantly referring to random fantasy name generators, trying to pick out decent pieces that work well together, but I consistently end up with unsatisfactory results. I kept pushing the problem aside however. I told myself I was going to make this work.

Until now.

I just don’t care anymore. Why waste all the energy on finding the right “fantasy” name when I can just as easily pick out a normal name. Besides, for my main character, Evelyn Ward sounds so much better than Kaya Brinnasdaughter (first version) or Kaya Ward (second). And her sister’s name is pronounced almost identically whether you spell it Hana (first/second) or Hannah (third).

That still leaves me with the problem of naming spirits, but the humans are going to have normal names and like it!