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Digging deep for metaphors: Editor's Notes #293
August 07, 2019

Those words are most pleasant which give us new knowledge.
Strange words have no meaning for us;
common terms we know already.
It is metaphor which gives us most of this pleasure.


In this issue:

1. Digging deep for metaphors
2. Tickled my funny bone
3. Interesting Web site
4. Writing prompt

1. Digging deep for metaphors
In the last issue, I promised to show you how to deepen the meaning of metaphors as a writer. If you didn’t see that issue, you can find it here. I gave a list of items and the challenge of coming up with a metaphor for each. Now I’ll show you how to dig deeper for metaphors.

First, I did what I told you to do. I matched each item with something else that shared at least one feature with the original item but that was not exactly the same as the original item. Here are my results. The original items are in italics here.
  • A dinner plate is like Emma.
  • A pillow is like an invitation to sleep.
  • A car seat is like a soother
  • Anger is like a stone.
  • Swimming is like writing a book.
Here is what these became.
  • Even the dinner plate with its lacy edge whispered fragility, but, like Emma, it had a strength hardened by fire.
    This is the simplest of the examples because it is still a simile. What deepens it is the explanation of how the dinner plate is like Emma. Depending on how this is presented in context, this can elevate a simple description of an item in a room to illustrate something about a character. To go deeper still, various dinner plates could appear throughout the story with the echo of Emma’s characteristic hidden hardness.
  • The pillow called him across the kitchen, down the hallway, and into his darkened room.
    Context could highlight other aspects of the pillow. As it stands here, it is simply an invitation to go to bed.
  • He knew his soother only through photos, but his child’s car seat seemed still to mark him as a sucky baby that no one could take seriously.
    It wasn’t until I began the deepening part of this exercise that I realized I really meant booster seat when I wrote car seat. In my family, we call booster seats car seats. So, please excuse my gaff. If I were writing a book, I would change to the more common term. But staying with my original idea, the car seat is a symbol, just as a soother is a symbol, of a child. A child who needs a booster seat could be as self-conscious about using that as about using a soother.
  • Her anger blocked the flow of softer emotions, often turning them into a tumult that left friend and foe alike confused and wary.
    In this case, I never tell the reader that I imagined the anger as a stone. Instead, I described what the anger/stone does. I say the anger blocks the flow of other emotions. In my own mind, a stone might cause a small stream to flow differently. It’s not important that the reader know my whole thinking. Notice also that I could have chosen any number of ways that anger could be like a stone. For example, it could be heavy; it could be hard; it could be formed in the bowels of the earth/psyche. It’s up to me as the writer to choose which aspects I want to highlight. What will serve the purpose of my writing?
  • Jerry took a deep breath. This is just like swimming, he thought. My arms pull the water out of the way, and my legs push me forward. And I have to keep breathing. This edit is my arms. I know what I have to fix. I’m sitting here with my hands on the keyboard, each stroke, a kick forward. And I have to keep breathing.
    An extended metaphor goes on for more than one or two sentences. Often it goes much deeper than I have gone in this example. But in this example, I’ve created a picture of someone swimming, and not easily, to show how writing can sometimes be a struggle, how sometimes it can feel even like a struggle for very survival. The writer needs to remember to breathe.

This is only a peek into how you can deepen the meanings of your metaphors. I hope it inspires you to explore using metaphors in your own writing, getting as much as you can out of them.

I love metaphors so much that I have a book where I record those that delight me as I read. As a gift from some of the authors I’ve read lately to you, via my book, here are just a few. Do with them what you will.

We had apparently been tagged and fit for release. Mark Sakamoto

I was clearly a "come from away." But they got forensic with Grandpa. Mark Sakamoto

My young firm body, repossessed nightly by my parents, is reborn in the morning to attend school. Laurie Verchomin

Like an oil-rich third-world country, an athlete, beginning with little, finding himself with great unplanned-for riches, is suddenly aware that in him is a finite resource fast running out. Without the broader sophistication to deal with it or to build something lasting from it, surrounded by others too anxious to try, he lives with one desperate nagging fear — this is my chance, don’t blow it. Ken Dryden

She had spoken mostly of events that stumbled against her… Michael Ondatje

Birds arranged on telephone wires like musical notes. Will Ferguson

A towering wall of sea-going metal, bleeding rust from its portholes and rivets. Will Ferguson

…towering over him as a rebuke. Nino Ricci

…an island that looked like a lesion on the skin of the sea, a patch of rock and scabrous earth completely barren except for the occasional cactus. Nino Ricci

…I felt only very strange and small. Like I was sitting inside myself in little pieces. As though I could, if I wished, take myself apart like a Russian doll and find myself in layers there, each one smaller, and more hollowed than the last. Until, at the very bottom, and for want only of tools precise enough with which to do so, I could go no further. Johanna Skibsrud

…my hands memorized the dance of the bread. Abu Bakr al Rabeeah

I ain’t no fool. They like to eat old France down her crusts. Esi Edugyan

Englishmen do love to bury one thing so completely in another that the two can only be separated by force: peanuts in candy, indigo in glass, Africans in irons. Lawrence Hill

We don’t fall from the sky. We grown on our family tree. Nancy Huston

Her stomach is Hiroshima. Anais Barbeau-Lavalette

…she curled up in her seat, me nestled in the depths of her uterus, an imperceptible comma in an as yet unwritten novel. Nicholas Dickner

Grandpa’s glove compartment enclosed the entire known universe, carefully folded and turned in on itself. Nicholas Dickner

The smell of manure was on the wind, the body odour of a landscape. Will Ferguson

…a collection of houses in search of a town Will Ferguson

…views with homes attached Will Ferguson

And just in case you miss the fact, let me point out that pretty much anything Will Ferguson writes is page after page of riotous metaphors dancing and weaving down the streets of his stories and descriptions. He writes both fiction and nonfiction, so he’s a great example for any writer.


2.Tickled my funny bone
Headline: Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges


3. Interesting Web site
Didn’t get enough practice with what I gave you in the last issue? Here are some more metaphor starters.

4. Writing prompt
Take one or more of the metaphor starters on the interesting Web site page above and deepen it.

I’m always happy to see what you do with the writing prompts. This time, I have a small gift that I’ll send to one of the people who send me their own metaphor(s). Anyone can win because I will conduct a random draw to determine the winner. I’ll contact the winner for a mailing address.

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