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.

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.]

January 29, 2010

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Posted in Tools of the Trade at 11:21 am by jajohnson7

These steps apply, of course, to helping the environment, but they can also apply to your writing. A Recycle Bin is a very useful tool for writers.

Have you ever had a lame story with a lame main character and a lame antagonist, but an awesome secondary character? Instead of trying to save the whole of the story just so your secondary character can shine, recycle him! Put him in a better story.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with your story, you just lose interest. Same thing applies. Recycle the good stuff, forget the bad.

For example, my current project stole from a project I was having trouble with. I took the religious system and the “strange” magic of the main character. I’m not sure whether or not to keep the original story (one small adjustment and it could be another installment in this saga), so I’m not sure yet whether or not to recycle the characters I created. But if I ditch it, you can bet I’m moving my favorite characters over.

January 18, 2010

You Are Here

Posted in Tools of the Trade at 10:48 am by jajohnson7

A fantasy writer’s best friend, ignoring glossaries, will inevitably be the map of their world. Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult to get it right.

Is the novel set in the mountains? Desert? An archipelago? The clouds? A city? A farm? A combination?

If you have no idea where the action is taking place relative to where the action has already and will be taking place, then how on earth are your readers going to manage?

As for me, I am terrible at designing maps. I would much rather be given a random map (that has the elements I’m looking for, obviously) with landmarks already marked out (a city here, a mountain pass there). Ta da! Now I can write my story.

The problem I am finding for my current project is that I cannot for the life of me find a random map to use. I don’t trust the internet far enough to download anything. I’m not a Dungeon Master who needs to work in hexagons. My options automatically narrow down to nil.

Fancying that I might have an ingenious streak, I started up an Age of Empires game. I pretended I wanted to generate a campaign, and started fiddling with the random maps. I soon learned that these maps would be perfect for a small setting, but do not cover nearly enough terrain to create an entire country. My hopes, and ego, were crushed.

I suppose all that’s left is to take a blank sheet of paper, close my eyes, and hope the perfect map just…magically appears. At this point, I would gladly take a half-perfect map, or even just a mediocre-run-of-the-mill-looks-vaguely-reminiscent-of-Middle-Earth map. Yeah. We’ll go with that.

January 13, 2010

At 1 pm Last Wednesday…

Posted in Tools of the Trade at 9:27 am by jajohnson7

Maybe it’s because I was a History major, but I love timelines. Most people prefer outlines to organize their stories, but I’m definitely a timeline girl.

They are so useful, especially if you’re doing flashbacks, or the party is divided up. What do you bet Tolkien used a timeline? It must have been difficult to keep track of how everyone’s adventures matched up by Return of the King.

And there are so many ways you can use them, too. You can have one for every main character. You can have one for major events. For example, this is when the invasion starts, or this is when the king is crowned. The timeline can be precise (at noon on the Winter Solstice…) or relative (John and Jane have to have a fight before James shows up).

Of course, depending on how detailed you are, it might just be a complete nightmare. If you’re using the timeline to plot out entire conversations, you’ve obviously misunderstood the purpose of the timeline. At some point you’re going to have to write the actual story, you know.

January 6, 2010

Hello, Main Character

Posted in Tools of the Trade at 8:00 am by jajohnson7

Every writer I’ve ever met, including on the internet, absolutely swears by the character dossier or the character interview. I do not understand why.

If you’re unfamiliar with these, let me enlighten you.
The Dossier: For each main character, you invent everything you might ever possibly need to know about them. There are hundreds of lists out there you can use, which take you through basics like appearance and family and minutiae like favorite color and desserts.
The Interview: Instead of listing everything, you write a short scene with (or just list) a series of questions for your main characters to answer. It covers the same information as above.

Both of these techniques are designed to get you to know more about your character. I’ve tried both with little success. I’m sorry, but filling out an endless form is a completely useless way for me to know my characters.

In case you share my frustration, let me share what I use: my mind.

I run through scenes in my head, most of which will probably never see ink and paper. I talk to the characters in my head, hear their imaginary complaints of how the story is going, console them with new plot points. We never cover favorite colors or desserts. I learn about their family if they bring it up themselves. I don’t drill them on minutiae. It’s irrelevant for my purposes.

If the dossiers and interviews work for you, more power to ya. Otherwise, I invite you to try my technique. It just might help you learn about your characters.