So many reasons to have a giveaway:
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
Tons of books by Asian authors are releasing this month.
One of them is mine! It's Not Like It's A Secret comes out on Tuesday, May 9.
I misspelled "giveaway" three times during the process of creating, downloading, and posting the graphic. It's a hard word to spell. Anyway, for the next month, if you subscribe to my newsletter, follow me on Twitter, or retweet the original tweet, you'll be entered to win the giveaway below. Plus, I'll donate four dollars to the ACLU for every new follow, subscriber, and retweet!
This is probably everyone’s favorite fancy writing tool, but it can be difficult to come up with a good one. The best metaphors are unexpected and apt. They make people say, “I never thought of it that way before, but it’s perfect!” Here are four ways that will hopefully help you find your way to something good.
1. Go to museums. Take walks in new neighborhoods. Listen to new music. Look at fine art—at museums, in books, or online. Read outside your preferred genre. Watch movies. Read poetry. While you do this, collect impressions, emotions, colors, textures, sounds, and smells, and put them in a mental metaphor bank (or write them down, which is probably a safer idea).
2. Think of the most important quality of the thing you want to describe. What else has that quality? Brainstorm a list. Make yourself write down at least seven things, to force yourself to think beyond the obvious. Then pick the one that fits the character, the situation, and the tone of your novel.
For example, there is a minor character in my book who I wanted to describe as totally hot. My first thought was “Greek god” or “Greek statue” but…that’s been done. So instead I focused on defining characteristic (beauty) and the context (minor character; typical teen movie hottie). What I came up with was
And so Daniel in Chapter Two has a face like your favorite love song.
3. Another fun metaphor exercise: make a list of random nouns. Pear, boat, padlock, mouse, monsoon, soccer ball. Then pick the first one and ask yourself, “How is a pear like a ____?” and substitute each of the other nouns you’ve picked. Make a list of the ways in which they are alike. For more focus, pick one of your characters, or an important abstract noun like love, or revenge, or guilt, and compare them to your list of random nouns. For even more focus, use important objects or places in your book as your nouns and compare your characters to them.
4. Here’s an exercise that works well for abstract nouns. Holding in your head (or on the page) the thing you want to metaphorize, imagine that it is alive. Make a list of descriptions according to the five physical senses. Take anger, for example. You may have to close your eyes and really imagine what it feels like. Locate the emotion in your body and describe it as concretely as you can. Is it heavy? Prickly? Fizzy? Slimy? Does it move, or does it stay still? What color is it? What flavor? What does it smell like? What does it sound like? How does it move?
I’m sure there are more ways to play around with metaphor. What exercises do you use?
When my son was three, he felt that there was no work of art that could not be improved by MORE STICKERS, MORE COLORS, and MORE GLITTER. Because who doesn’t like colorful and sparkly? Thing is, you and I both know that a little glitter is good, but a pile of glitter glopped on top of half a bottle of Elmer's glue . . . not so much.
In a desperate attempt to get students to write with any flair at all, many language arts teachers push what's easiest for kids to understand: lots of adjectives, adverbs, and thesaurus usage--the puffy stickers, sparkle markers, and glitter shakers of writing. As kids, we were rewarded for modifier and thesaurus abuse because at least we were using adjectives. We were told that this was good writing, when in fact it was just more writing. More glitter. And we can learn all the fancy writing techniques in the world, but if the bones of the writing--the sentences--are hidden under piles of puffy adverbs and sparkly synonyms, anything we do will only make things more . . . more.
So without further ado, three ways to scrape off the excess so you can see the shape of the sentences underneath, and help them become what they really want to be.
1. Adjectives and adverbs: Less is more.
Everyone I know was taught in elementary school to use lots of adjectives and adverbs in “descriptive writing.” It’s counterintuitive—and difficult—to shake our dependence on these so-called “describing words.” But it’s essential because they’re nearly always too much. If you use the right nouns and verbs, you won’t need as many adjectives.
It’s the difference between entering a room and seeing this cat:
Sleeping lazily in the warm, bright morning sun was a cat with soft gold and brown striped fur.
And this one:
A tabby cat basked in the morning sun.
2. Verbs and Nouns: Say exactly—and only—what you mean.
The thesaurus is not a tool to vary-ify your vocabulary (yes, I made that word up). It is a tool to refine it. For example, chortle, giggle, guffaw, and snicker are not interchangeable. They have very specific meanings and should be used in very specific contexts. (And often, laugh will do just fine.) Also, try not to use an adverb with a powerful verb; guffawing loudly is redundant. So is chortling softly.
Same with nouns. If your characters are escaping pirates in a dinghy, don’t call it a yacht, a schooner, or a skiff. If saying “dinghy” twelve times in twenty sentences feels repetitive (hint: it is), maybe you don't need some of those sentences.
3. Unless you are a certified master, go easy on the metaphors.
As a person who draws hearts in the margins every time I come across a lovely metaphor, it pains me to say this. But sometimes it’s necessary. Especially if the metaphor is old and worn out. Let it retire (metaphorically) and spend the rest of its metaphorical days sipping metaphorical lemonade on its metaphorical front porch.
No metaphor at all is better than a bad one. I mean. Does Jane Austen tell us that Mr. Darcy’s eyes are the color of a sparrow’s wing (or tree bark, or a well-cooked steak)? No. I’m not even sure she tells us they’re brown.
I do love a good metaphor, though. Great metaphors can (help) make a book shine. Stay tuned for metaphor madness, coming soon. Well. Soonish.