Being a Better Writer: Imagery and Metaphor

Reaching the end of Topic List XI folks! Only a few more to go! But before we go diving into today’s Being a Better Writer post, a few bits of news to take care of.

So, the weekend sale and the dearth of sales before it. According to a comment left on the original post, I’m not the only author who saw a sudden drop around that time, so Unusual Events’ involvement may have been a coincidence, the drop being something larger sweeping through the book world. School year starting? Something else? I don’t know. But it appears it wasn’t just me that felt it.

Thankfully, the weekend sale seems to have done pretty well, with Colony and Shadow of an Empire selling a good number of copies. Hopefully the momentum gained carries on through now that the sale is over and keeps it back at what it was before things took a swift downward dive, but if nothing else there was a weekend of good sales numbers that hopefully leaves some happy readers craving more.

So, that’s the news so … Oh wait, there’s one more thing. Someone did ask my opinion on the Fantastic Beasts Nagini “controversy” and if I was going to do a post on it. A full post? For something so ridiculous? No. But I can address it in a paragraph or two.

The gist of it? The newest trailer for Fantastic Beasts 2 revealed that Nagini, the pet snake of the big bad in the original Harry Potter series, may in fact be a Naga, and is a character in the new Fantastic Beasts film. Well, almost immediately after this reveal, the film (and Rowling) came under attack for casting an Asian actress as the character, saying that it was accusing all Asians of being reptiles, etc etc. The usual stupid, easily-offended-but-completely-uneducated-social-justice-virtue-signal stuff.

Rowling’s response was to politely point out that Naga are a southern Asia mythology, hailing from that culture, so in addition to the actress’ talent at the role, it was an accurate choice given the myths, legends, and source of Naga. Now, with sane, rational people who aren’t just looking to jump on the latest bandwagon of “look what makes me so woke” things would have stopped there. But they didn’t. Instead the attacks immediately changed to a variety of secondary “social justice” standbys: Cultural appropriation, Nagini was Voldemort’s pet so clearly this is saying all women are pets to men, etc etc etc.

The lack of logic is truly staggering. It’s perpetually-offended folks wanting to be perpetually offended and doing everything they can to try and take some sort of imaginary “moral high ground” to shame everyone else and gain a measure of power over them. Look at that initial chain of “How dare you have an Asian actress portray this mythological creature” to “That creature’s from that part of the world? Then how dare you ‘appropriate’ that myth!”

It’s a strange “game” these morons want everyone else to give them.

Right, that said, let’s get on to today’s BaBW post and talk a little bit about imagery and metaphor.

I suppose this is going to be a different tact from what some of you expected. Some of the people who requested this topic, from the way they worded their request, seemed to be hoping that I would talk about specific metaphors. Common phrases, or maybe even less common ones so that they could pick up some new ones to repeat in their own writing.

But … I’m not doing that. All I’ll say on that topic is that if you want to read some metaphors go read a book and look for them. I’ve spoken before, many times, on the importance of reading if you want to be a writer: You can’t exist in a vacuum. Just as directors watch others films to see what other directors do, you cannot be a writer in a vacuum that refuses to read others books. If you want to see some specific metaphor examples, go pick up a book, read it, and look for metaphor. Like with any other case of learning from what you’re reading, look at how the author uses metaphor and phrase. Look at how they describe things: Settings, a room, characters. Question why the author notes specific details, or why they made certain comparisons. Why did it work? Was it evocative? How can you use that in your own writing.

Okay, then, that’s all well and good, but if I’m not talking about specific examples today, then what am I going to talk about? After all, there’s a post title about metaphor and imagery, so that lone paragraph can’t be all, can it?

No, it isn’t. Rather than talk about specific metaphors you can use, or go deep into depth on what a metaphor is, or imagery, I’m going to come at this from a different angle: what metaphor and imagery would your viewpoint character use?

I feel like this is something that a lot of young authors (and even some veteran ones) overlook: Different characters will view things differently because they’re different people, and this extends to metaphor and imagery. What one character notices or sees first about a room can and often should be entirely different from what another notices and sees. And this viewpoint should be conveyed to the reader. Metaphor and imagery should be influenced by that character’s history.

Let’s give an example. Say we have a room with a large, stain-glass window dominating one side, and you want to note this when your character walks in. Or rather, you want your character to note this. Well, how this stained-glass window will be described can vary based on your character.

For example, what if our character was from a cold, northern country? Well, we might end up with something like this:

The stained-glass at the far end of the room caught his eyes first, the frosted panes sparkling like ice caught under the sun on a clear day.

Okay, that’s an image (and yeah, not the best, but off-the-cuff here). But what if we have a character from another place take a look at it? Well, then the presentation would be quite different. We could end up with this:

The stained-glass picture at the far end of the room caught his eyes first, glowing faintly with the warmth of the noon-day sun and spraying a cascade of soft colors across the white marble floor.

See? The other didn’t even get into the floor, but here, that’s the first thing this character noticed. One saw a glass window that sparkled the way ice does on a clear day, while the other noticed the way the colors coming from the window were arrayed across the floor.

The thing to realize here is that niether is wrong. Both are correct and both show the room based on what the character would see from it.

Now, why would we do this? Why give a room two completely different images, even when it’s the same room? Well, because there’s a two-fold objective here. One is that yes, we describe the room to the reader through imagery or metaphor and help them build a picture of it. But when our imagery and metaphor comes through the view of the character, we also reinforce that character in the mind of the reader. We learn about a character based on what they notice first and how they describe things. Thus, having our metaphor and imagery be tailored to the character not only gives the reader a way of seeing a setting through clever writing, it can also reinforce a character.

And with that, I’m kind of out of things to say on this one. I really can’t say much more without going into ridiculous amounts of detail that wouldn’t serve too much purpose. In sum, I repeat what I’ve been saying this whole time: let your imagery and metaphor be driven by the characters whose lens the audience is seeing through.

And with that, good luck, and get writing.

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