Wordsmith Wednesday–Metaphor

I assume that if you are visiting this site, you are a writer and already familiar with the concept of metaphor, so I will give only a brief overview.

Metaphor is a literary device that creates an image by showing the similarity between one reality and another. It is an effective tool to enrich the readers’ involvement in your story by allowing them to experience an emotion or idea through sensory description.

Here’s an example from my novel, “The Sin of His Father.” In this scene, the protagonist, Matt, has just spent the night at his mother’s deathbed. Shortly before she dies, she confesses that she has lied to him. The father who he never knew did not abandon them, rather Matt was conceived in an act of rape.

Overwhelmed by grief and anger, Matt steps outside the nursing facility to catch a breath of fresh air and smoke his pipe. This is how I decribe his emotions:

One of the birds interrupted breakfast to stare at Matt—Matt would have sworn it was so—and his skin tingled at the thought of stories his mother used to tell him of dead people coming back as black birds. Beside the predator, strewn feathers told of a smaller bird that had lost its struggle to keep on living. Matt’s grief came pouring out. That it was because of a fragile creature stunned him at first before he recognized the similitude. Like the wren, his mother fought her whole life for food and survival. She’d known a dark monster, too. Not one that would destroy her suddenly, mercifully, but one that most likely haunted every moment of her adult life. One that tore her down from the inside-out and in the end defeated her.

What I’d like to discuss today, though, is how to develop metaphor. This morning during my “quiet time” I was reminded to look at life, at people, at things, by becoming aware–by seeing the world around me in the essence of their core nature. I had the idea to start a file of metaphors and this will be my first entry: when I walked the dogs I was accompanied by the mournful cooing of doves, the sound of the place within us that is waiting for something more…a metaphor, perhaps for loneliness or emptiness. Are any of you doing this or something similar?

Another blogger, ketch 1714, shared this description:

The eight, creepy eyes of a spider stared into my soul as it crawled along the wall. As small as the creature is, my spine tingles. I could feel its hairy legs bush against my skin. Its fangs on my neck as the venom dripped over my flesh. I was bound in its web by the mere sight of it, waiting for the cold breath of death.

How would you use that as a metaphor? What experience does this image evoke?

Wordsmith Wednesday–More About Description

The more I read, the more I realize the critical role of description–involving all the senses–in the telling of a story. It is through sensory input that we engage in our world. So many of us today rush through life. Always in a hurry, we don’t take the time to notice the beauty of cloud formations, the scent of honey-suckle, the colors of the sunset or the caress of a summer breeze. Sucked into the vortex of Ipods, texting–even blogs–it’s easy to succumb to the inevitability of a life lived vicariously. So, offer your reader the joys he or she may be missing. Invite them to become more aware. This goes whether you write fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction or…you name it.

Here are a few more considerations to bear in mind when writing description:

Good description does not have to be flowery, purple prose kind of stuff. Avoid extensive use of hyperbole, adjectives, adverbs. Go for active verbs when you can.

Description isn’t only about what you see. Train yourself to become aware of all your senses. Keep notes about your experiences in your writing journal so that you can refer to them for inspiration.

Use description to express emotion. It’s that old “show, don’t tell” advice. Become aware of how your body responds when you’re happy, afraid–whatever. Go ahead and jot that down in your journal, too.

Don’t be afraid to describe the ugly, the scary, the difficult, the gruesome, even. This is all part of life, isn’t it?

Description doesn’t have to be lengthy, rambling. Tighten up your narrative, but make every word count. I’m sure that when reading you, like me, have been guilty of skimming lengthy paragraphs of description that have taken you out of the story line.

Suggestion: to develop your own awareness, get in the habit of journaling each day. Jot down some memories of things you’ve observed. Go beyond the visual. Cultivate awareness.

Wordsmith Wednesday: Tune In to Inspiration

The drive home and challenges of unpacking have prevented writing and blogging time over the last few days. However, that doesn’t mean that demands of life have the right to completely stiffle the creative process. Tuning into silence, probing the Within, heightening sensory perception–all of these contribute to enrich sensory description, theme, symbolism and plot. It’s good to be home but the return to normalcy is still a way off. In the meantime, I’ll grab a minute here, jot some notes there. And when my writing routine begins to re-emerge, I’ll have a wealth of material to turn to. Successful writing depends on cultivating awareness.

Using Color to Create Mood

As a would-be artist and a docent, I love to employ the elements of art in my writing. A favorite is to use color to create mood. Here are a few suggestions:

Yellow is a happy color and can be used to liven up a scene–to make it joyful, while Red signifies anger, passion, love. Think about when you are feeling intense emotions such as rage. When you close your eyes, sometimes your visual field appears red.

Blue and Green convey calmness, peacefullness.

Black shows the unknown or fear and use Brown as a grounded, earthy color.

Violet or Lavendar speak of spirituality while White is used to represent truth and innocence.

I’m including a short description from “Winter is Past” that strives to convey a mood using color:

In the dim light, the church, clothed in red, marked the joyous season of Pentecost. The altar was covered in an abundance of flowers—gold, yellow, orange and red gladioli—tongues of flame marking the climax of the Pascal season. Helene’s mood, however, was somber, spiraling into blackness. The red surrounding her spoke to her of blood and death—the death of her spirit. She suppressed a sob…

Would you care to share an example of your own?

Wordsmith Wednesday

Welcome to my new weekly feature: “Wordsmith Wednesday.”

My thoughts tend to meander so I’ve decided to bring a little more organization to my blog, both to stimulate interest and to keep myself on task by creating a weekly theme.

This week I’d like to consider ways of using sensory descriptions to express emotions. We’re told to “show, don’t tell,” but how many heart palpitations, sweaty palms or dilated pupils can the reader tolerate as an indication of fear? One device that has been effective for me has been to utilize a background occurence that externalizes inner feelings. Here’s an example from my first novel, “Winter is Past.”

Claire, our protagonist, faces the fear that she may lose her best friend to kidney cancer. She is also concerned that something could happen to Josh, her husband, who will undergo major surgery in order to give a kidney to Kathryn.

I could have written: “Claire was overcome with fear.” In fact, that’s probably the gist of what I wrote the first time around. Instead, I chose the following device:

“In a corner of the dimly lit room, a tiny spider worked diligently, spinning an intricate web. I knew how it must feel to fall victim to its hunt, to become tangled in its snare. As each delicate filament wrapped around its victim, I felt a sense of suffocation, of helplessness. Without a word, I picked up the glasses from the table and followed Kathryn up the stairs.”

Writing Exercise: Select a passage from your writing–fiction or creative non-fiction–that portrays emotion. Take a look at the setting and see if you can figure out an outside occurence that offers an alternate form of expression. Have fun–I’d love to see what you come up with!

Sensory Descriptions–Taste

Looking through my own writing to see how I’ve used the sense of taste, I discovered this short snippet from a poem I wrote called “The Summer of 1948.” I won’t tell you how old I was at the time!

Summer Used to Smell Like

Hot concrete
dampened by rain showers.
sprayed from a can with a
plunger like a bicycle pump.
Fire crackers and

Sensory Descriptions

When I first participated in critique groups, one of the comments I heard over and over again was:
“Let me see, touch, smell, taste, hear what’s going on.”

Sensory description invites the reader to join you in the experience you hope to recreate.

Right now, for example, my sense of smell is on high alert. My husband, the chef, is browning meat and veggies for our Sunday pot roast. I hear the dogs tap-dancing at his feet, in the hopes that he drops a morsel. From the corner of my eye, I see mounds of color–carrots, celery, onions–waiting to be added to the pot. The whole effect arouses my hunger, even though I know it will be hours before I can eat.

For me a scene or poem can be transformed when I tune into the senses.

Here’s an example of a poem focused on the sense of touch.


About five-thirty
the morning of Friday before
light spills through blinds,
pools into discrete
silver puddles
at the foot of my bed.

Through the half-moon window
near the ceiling,
swatches of gray satin
unfurl across the sky.
Tears in the fabric
allow slices of blue to
peek through,
toss hope in my face.

In that shadowy space between
asleep and awake
ideas pelt my brain
so I can’t escape back into
my dream about the circus
where I rode barefoot,
standing on the rough coat
of a white mare.
I slip into awareness.

Cold smooth wood
greets my feet as I stand
and yawn.
My dog
shakes her silky fur, glares at
me for interrupting her dreams.

We stretch, enter the day,
touch life.