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What's A Good Quota For Figurative Writing, Similes And Metaphors? (1 Viewer)

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TheMightyAz

Mentor
This is going to be my next focus. I've been practising all three of those (including personification) for quite some time, just getting used to automatically reaching for them. But now I need to learn to pace them and allow for looser language in between. So, what moments do you choose to use them? How often would you use them? Do you allow yourself a quota per page? What do you think is the best time to use them and in what circumstance?

I won't be changing things in Apparition and I've already started a story for this months comp, so won't be changing it there either. After that though, I'll be looking at balance.
 

Phil Istine

WF Veterans
I suppose it depends on the type of work it is. In general, I reckon that overuse causes dilution and can make it look like the author is trying to be a writer, but used more sparingly and with a decent level of congruence, it can work better.

I'm thinking that it might be an idea to use them liberally, then make use of that old advice about putting the piece away for a few weeks or so in order that you can view it with fresh eyes later. Viewing it afresh may give a better idea of which to cut and which to keep.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
I had never considered it in such mechanical terms, but I guess simile and metaphor add significance to some degree, so you would be less likely to use them for casual references, and more likely with significant stuff.

I suppose it might be fun to try tricks like making the vicar talk in metaphor and his wife in simile, fairly important they stay in character, vicars don't move like a 'bat out of hell', or have a 'snowball's chance'.
I think a fresh ear is important sometimes, mind out though, you can go too far. If you have a lawyer who is 'dry as dust' that may be the perfect way to describe him and, 'Dry as a Bond Martini' would be out of character. On the other hand if it is in character for the person talking about him ...

If you are being mechanical about it it might be instructive to go through a favourite author's story and mark them, I have done something similar with a Kipling story and plotting, changing time people and place but going through line by line following the plot. I learned quite a bit from that, though it is hard to quantify.

I started a couple of threads in 'word games' designed to help people develop their imagination, one of similes, one of metaphors, I can't help feeling the particular construction is as important as the placing in some ways, such as giving a work a particular type of voice, bet I could tell an original Foxee one from an original xXx nineteen times out of twenty.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I suppose it depends on the type of work it is. In general, I reckon that overuse causes dilution and can make it look like the author is trying to be a writer, but used more sparingly and with a decent level of congruence, it can work better.

I'm thinking that it might be an idea to use them liberally, then make use of that old advice about putting the piece away for a few weeks or so in order that you can view it with fresh eyes later. Viewing it afresh may give a better idea of which to cut and which to keep.

There must be some sort of balance though. I've been looking for an interview of a female author but I can't remember her name. I recall her talking about how she'll put one in now and then but not overdo it. If she's conscious of the chance she could 'overdo it' then there must be some kind of general rule. ... That's how I thought of it anyway.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
This is going to be my next focus. I've been practising all three of those (including personification) for quite some time, just getting used to automatically reaching for them. But now I need to learn to pace them and allow for looser language in between. So, what moments do you choose to use them? How often would you use them? Do you allow yourself a quota per page? What do you think is the best time to use them and in what circumstance?

I won't be changing things in Apparition and I've already started a story for this months comp, so won't be changing it there either. After that though, I'll be looking at balance.

I'm always conscious of "like" and "as though" and "as if" appearing too close together in a paragraph. That being said, it doesn't seem to stop it getting published traditionally so it probably doesn't matter as much as I think. Personally I try and not have more than one type per average paragraph / maybe two or max three per page. My internal editor is 'always on' so they get caught as I go ... in theory.

As a matter of style, I like exploring past the standard bounds of metaphors and similes, looking into imagery and so on, just to enrich the text, but that's just because I have nothing better to do;)
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I don't know what a good quota is, but personally I rarely use them. I remember after a similar thread, I forced myself to use a metaphor. It was ok I guess, but it's just not part of my voice. I have an interesting story to tell, and I just tell it how it is...it doesn't have to be "like something".

As a reader, I can get frustrated when there are too many or they don't make sense. Why force me to visualise something other than what you are actually portraying. I suppose if they are very clever you can say something in fewer words, but if not you can just make your reader work too hard.

Your description of the farmhouse in Apparition was wonderful, and I don't think it had any similes or metaphors in it.
 
I have an interesting story to tell, and I just tell it how it is...it doesn't have to be "like something".

I actually agree with this, and it's why I do use metaphor. I have to tell it how it is -- but what if what it is is two things at once, or what if it's deeper than it appears to be? I view metaphor not as mere comparison but another way of describing truth -- an often necessary way. Not just a decorative element in writing. I am careful about the amount t of "likes" and "as ifs," but figurative language in general? Trying to hammer down a quota would be borderline impossible -- I once tried to count the number of instances of metaphor in a piece of mine, out of curiosity, and I found it was hard to distinguish the literal and the metaphorical. This is not about blurring truth and falsehood; it's that metaphor is just as true, in a certain sense. For myself personally I often intend a particular phrase both literally and metaphorically, and in general they blend in my writing. Maybe this is a side effect of believing that an immortal, invisible Spirit and a literal, physical Man are the same Person, or maybe it's just an unconscious artistic choice, I don't know.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Ultimately it is down to the reader, everything is done for the reader, and they vary. Some, like Taylor, don't want the distraction; others will feel it is dry and uninteresting without them. It should be possible to guess to a degree by genre.
It occurs to me...
Atomic physics textbooks dealing with stuff smaller than light wavelength must be all metaphor, no one knows what it's really like :)
 

Darkkin

WF Veterans
I don't use it in my fiction, but when trying to explain a complex situation in a non-fiction capacity, both spoken and written, I illustrate with a lot of pop culture analogies because if I don't my encyclopedic torrent of geek speak can leave people gasping for air. I don't write in metaphor, the word is the word, in a very literal sense. Readers (listeners) just fill in the blanks and find meaning in Literal the Azure Pigmy Giraffe...
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
For myself personally I often intend a particular phrase both literally and metaphorically, and in general they blend in my writing. Maybe this is a side effect of believing that an immortal, invisible Spirit and a literal, physical Man are the same Person, or maybe it's just an unconscious artistic choice, I don't know.

Interesting. I would love to see an example.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
You are a fount of interesting questions.

I actually made a "rule of thumb" -- no more than one per paragraph. There is a tendency for them to mix together if two are in the same paragraph. My inspiration for this:

And if my life wasn't enough in the toilet, I was now on the plane home, seated four rows ahead of a guy who looked like Sasquatch and was snoring like a bear in a cave. (Evanovich, Explosive Eighteen, pages 1-2)

And it depends on the book and your skills and what you need. To me, the "mood" of the Old Man and the Sea suggests not using a metaphorical. Some searching finally revealed one simile, and I wished Hemingway had left it out.

So, use metaphoricals to make your story better. They have a cost, that your reader is temporarily imagining things that are not in your story (toilets, bears, caves, Sasquatch). So make sure they contribute. Variety in style is important, so if you are only doing the obvious similes and metaphors, you probably can't do as much. If you are good at metaphoricals, you can use more than if you are not.

And, like anything that adds power to writing (adverbs, italics, short paragraphs, strange man walking into the room with a gun) they can be used thoughtlessly to give an appearance of exciting writing.
 
Atomic physics textbooks dealing with stuff smaller than light wavelength must be all metaphor, no one knows what it's really like :)

Precisely. I think cosmic horror, weird fiction, and similar genres have the same constriction. When you're trying to describe the indescribable, metaphor, suggestion, hint, and negative statements (as in saying what something is not), are often necessary.

Interesting. I would love to see an example.

A piece I wrote that I sometimes call "The Heavens Declare" and sometimes call "deepspace_canticl3" ends with the line: "And the curtains full of stars peel open like tabernacle doors." In one sense, outer space / the second heaven is metaphorically tabernacle doors -- a gate to experiencing the presence of God. But at that point in the story, it literally was true, too -- my idea was the POV character's spaceship is being pulled through a wormhole into some transitional realm -- maybe not the Throne Room of God (that seems a bit irreverent), but perhaps some kind of inner court. The character is at a point where the literal and metaphorical meet, or maybe a place where such categories no longer apply.

Another example: In another story I wrote I described poppies as "metaphorically" having red hair, but only two paragraphs later they were real, literal nymphs with literal red hair.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
It's impossible for me to consider this as a quantitative area of writing ... and this from a guy you know aims for a word count per chapter and more often than not hits the mark.

One part of the thought process is they're used for various reasons. I might see them more often in a comedy, because it's possible to make some seriously funny similes. Then you can turn around and use them for serious artistic expression in defining scenery and mood.

My advice is write them as they come to mind and feel right in the context. It's true you wouldn't want to pack them in sentence after sentence, but anyone trying to do that is trying to force them in, anyway, which would be a mistake. Forced similes (and metaphors) seldom come off well. A forced simile is like a small child hopping up and down with glee to tell you each and every detail about the cartoon he just watched. It's like a mounted deer head on the wall of the local ASPCA chapter manager's office. (BSPCA for all you other folks). It's like trying to stuff the ugly step-sister's foot into Cinderella's slipper. It just seems misplaced and awkward.

But you CAN come up with some that work well. Once of my favorites lines in the sci-fi book I wrote last year was "False pride is like walking face first into the wall when you could have aimed for the door." Generally, when I write them they just come to me. If I was sitting here thinking I need one for a scene and nothing is coming, I wouldn't force one in anyway. Better to skip it than write a bad one.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
You are a fount of interesting questions.

I actually made a "rule of thumb" -- no more than one per paragraph. There is a tendency for them to mix together if two are in the same paragraph. My inspiration for this:

And if my life wasn't enough in the toilet, I was now on the plane home, seated four rows ahead of a guy who looked like Sasquatch and was snoring like a bear in a cave. (Evanovich, Explosive Eighteen, pages 1-2)

And it depends on the book and your skills and what you need. To me, the "mood" of the Old Man and the Sea suggests not using a metaphorical. Some searching finally revealed one simile, and I wished Hemingway had left it out.

So, use metaphoricals to make your story better. They have a cost, that your reader is temporarily imagining things that are not in your story (toilets, bears, caves, Sasquatch). So make sure they contribute. Variety in style is important, so if you are only doing the obvious similes and metaphors, you probably can't do as much. If you are good at metaphoricals, you can use more than if you are not.

And, like anything that adds power to writing (adverbs, italics, short paragraphs, strange man walking into the room with a gun) they can be used thoughtlessly to give an appearance of exciting writing.

I've always been interested in metaphors, similes, personification and the such. Then I watched an interview with Ray Bradbury in which he said without ambiguity, metaphors are the secret of good writing. I don't think he meant just on an image by image bases either. I think he meant on a broader, scene/chapter/story basis too.

For instance, MotherHUD was a metaphor (maybe allegory is better) for a mother's lot. Single mother has a child, it takes everything out of her and leaves her empty (final scene). Child learns to resent and control the mother, not realise it would be out in the cold without her. (again, final scene).

the village in Apparition is a metaphor for Twitter ... (whispers)
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I don't know what a good quota is, but personally I rarely use them. I remember after a similar thread, I forced myself to use a metaphor. It was ok I guess, but it's just not part of my voice. I have an interesting story to tell, and I just tell it how it is...it doesn't have to be "like something".

As a reader, I can get frustrated when there are too many or they don't make sense. Why force me to visualise something other than what you are actually portraying. I suppose if they are very clever you can say something in fewer words, but if not you can just make your reader work too hard.

Your description of the farmhouse in Apparition was wonderful, and I don't think it had any similes or metaphors in it.

I would recommend adding some just for the hell of it. You can always cut them later. They can also help in reverse and inspire the story/plot/characters. Here's an example of what I mean. I always write them down when I think of them and tinker with them over time:

In a hammock between hills, slept a twisted shack, swaddled in night.

SO, who would live there? The metaphor itself creates an idea of who it could be.

edit: Gotta do something about two comma sentences ...
 
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