Saturday, March 21, 2009

Metaphors, Similes, and Sensory details

Being pure southern, as well as debouching metaphorically the English language with such similes as Query Shark’s Blog defines in Janet Reid’s #106 article blogged Friday March 20, 2009.

As aspiring authors, we need to pay close attention to the rules of colorful writing that will stop an agent or editor in their tracks, too formulate a rejection. She says frankly that metaphors should illuminate and not confuse the reader.

So understanding figurative language and its use is the wanna-be’s aspiration.

A metaphor is a comparison of two things that does not use "like" or "as." Where as a simile is a comparison of two things using "like" or "as."

Figurative language is a word or phrase that departs from everyday literal language for the sake of comparison, emphasis, clarity, or freshness.

At Ginny Wiehardt discusses metaphors, similes, and conveying emotion without lapsing into sentimentality. She gives examples of Raymond Chandler’s use of similes and metaphors, how it often supported larger themes in his book The Long Goodbye, as in:

"And his eyes were like holes poked in a snowbank."
"His hair was as smooth as a bird's breast."

WHISTLE BRITCHES is a southern term of endearment for boys with more energy than sense and who talk to hear their heads rattle.”

What struck Ms. Reid was the last part of the sentence structure (Is "talk to hear their heads rattle" another southern turn of phrase? It jars me (Ms. Reid says) because heads don't rattle.) —who talk to hear their heads rattle. As a southerner, the expression I’d always heard was—to hear their heads roar. Meaning metaphorically they would rather hear the sound of their own voice than to listen to the common sense of reasoning and logic. I’ve commented and asked on Ms. Reid’s article, if she thought roar would be a better word choice, metaphorically. I will post her response in the comment section of this article. (My quest as an aspiring author is to learn from those that have the knowledge as much as I can, and one mistake I make frequently is not reading aloud what I have written. And having rephrased the question and posted the meaning a second time on the blog, I’m reluctant to post it a third time, fearing utter embarrassment. I do think and feel that I have the meaning expressed better in the above highlighted in blue.)

I’m way behind in my groups discussion “Sweet Hearts of the Rodeo” this week and I’m thankful there is no writing exercise. Anecdote Exercise this week’s topic, from Robert Olen Butler’s book “From Where You Dream” chapter 8. Chapter 8 deals with the descriptive details of the sensory memory as the anecdote is put into words. Robert Olen Butler asks the students to volunteer to tell an anecdote orally. After the students that volunteered have told their tale, they stand to repeat the story they have conveyed, and he draws their attention to the abstraction, generalization of their opening. He attempts to draw from each student precise sensory details through sight, sound, touch-- the elements of the senses that bring the reader into the story visually.

One student began an opening sentence with “There are men sitting”; Butler immediately says to her, “you’re generalizing.” What he is saying is that she’s not focusing on specifics.

When you take a panoramic view of the room, as you walk in utilizing the senses, you might see, “A man sitting in the corner, waiting his turn with the barber, as he listens vicariously to the music drone from the radio, thumping his fingers against armrest of the chair in tune.” We’re painters Robert Olen Butler says, detailing through descriptive details, what is before us, to the reader in moment- to -moment sensory impressions.
Don’t draw back from the emotional aspect, as you write the character’s viewpoint of a scene, what they might view (through the senses of smell, hear, see, touch, taste) in the opening paragraph of your story.

These are my thoughts as I learn through reading, and taking into account others interpretation of the craft of writing. I do hope you share your thoughts, view, and interpretation.
Happy Writing!


  1. Hi JB,

    You got me interested in reading about comparison. I visited Kim's blog and read her essay about it. Very insightful. I think I caught wind of another chase in my future.

    Did you get my email?


  2. Hi Raven,
    Thanks for popping in, I sent you an email. Both Kim's Blog and Brandilyn Collins blog have insightful information for the aspiring author. There isn't enough hours in the day to read and explore all the wonderful tips and advice given.



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