Tuesday Tip: Try a New Metaphor

Tuesday tips is a category of posts here at Writerly Life promises to offer concrete tips for improving or kickstarting your writing. The tips that fall into this category are the sorts that you can do today or even right now.

Writers usually have pet obsessions. They have emotional and personal memories associated with lakes and water, for example, so lakes and water end up popping up again and again in their stories. They might think there is rich metaphorical possibility in bridges or in vacant lots, so these set pieces appear in every book. The writer Haruki Murakami, whom all you know I’m a big fan of, loved used the images of dried-up wells in his stories. He realized that he loved them too much; they were appearing in all of his novels! In an interview recently he spoke of having to make a conscious decision of banning wells from his stories, at the risk of becoming repetitive and dull. We can all fall into this trap; so your tip this week is:

Try a New Metaphor

We all have our fixations that obsessions. Those fixations can lead us to some of our best writing about haunting images or recurring themes. I personally love forests at night, car headlights, and train travel. These things tend to appear often in my stories. But I’d better keep track of them and know when it’s time to freshen up my kit of images. It might be time for you, too, to try a new metaphor.

So this week, consider what you’re maybe leaning on a little too heavily. We love to read images that seem fresh and surprising, or that look at ordinary settings with new eyes. So try choosing a brand new setting or haunting object to obsess you this week. Try writing about rusty tea kettles or garbage dumps. Closely examine the insides of cars, or have your character walk in the city if he normally walks in the country. Your novel won’t be all that exciting if your character is simply returning to the same images over and over. You’ve got to keep refreshing the images and settings. That’s one reason I love Murakami; he keeps finding new settings or objects that seem rich with metaphor. One Murakami book I read recently involves a character being trapped at the top of a ferris wheel all night. Another one relies upon anonymous, obscene phone calls. Another uses a train station where it’s unclear if the train will ever return. These concrete things provide a haunting framework for all your dreams and metaphors to take flight. But if I saw train station after train station, I would lose interest.

So try something new! Force yourself to explore the story possibilites of a new metaphor!

One comment

  1. mary brady says:

    Hm. I don’t think I’ve ever used a metaphor. I write mainly dialogue, then, in between, paragraphs that move the characters from point A to point B. At B, there is more dialogue which reveals more about the plot & the characters.

    Basically, if I can just keep the action moving, remain coherent & tell an interesting story about some people, I’m happy. I guess I am pretty shallow. It never occurs to me put my characters in or near some ‘place’ that is a metaphor for anything.

    I don’t even use metaphors as descriptors, e.g., ‘his clothes looked like he’d slept in them.’ I suspect I’d quickly mention his ‘rumpled clothes’ & move on to his dialogue.

    I like dialogue! Plus, the less I say about anyone, the more my readers fill in themselves. But I still feel shallow & ‘less than’ because I don’t think to use empty wells or trains. I’m very superficial. But that’s just me. I liked this pointer a lot & will try using something as a symbol of something else soon!

    L&K, MaryB

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