Friday, March 11, 2011

Mangling Metaphors

By Keith N Fisher

We’ve visited this subject before. In fact, you might say, we’ve gone down that road. Passed the milestone, chewed that cabbage, hit the mark, rowed the boat, and saluted that flag. We’ve been here before, on this merry-go-round of writing lessons we call the LDS Writer’s Blogck, which is sort of an acronym for the purpose of the blog. It began as a help to overcome writer’s block. Hence, the word, blog was combined with the word, block. But I’m getting off subject.

Metaphors are wonderful, because the writer can use them to provide an image the reader can understand. Jesus used metaphors to illustrate his points. I just used an image to help illustrate mine.

In the locker room of all bad detective novels, however, there seems to be a collection of misused or poorly imagined metaphors. Good writers cringe, and comedians find punch lines in the text of a Sam Spade novel. Like a bad penny, overused cliché’s, cheap metaphors, and unrelated similes turn up in novels all the time.

Okay, you get the point. If you need to draw an image for the reader, think of fresh and meaningful metaphors. Doing so, is the mark of a good writer. Also, make sure it makes sense. I’ve been listening to a popular song while at work lately. It has a mangled metaphor that caught my attention and since I can’t think of anything else to write about . . .

In a song, Josh Turner sings the words, Please baby let’s unburn all our bridges.

Now, I know it’s an effective choice of words, because it gets my attention and I understand the meaning. But, he’s taken an old metaphor and turned it backward. When we burn our bridges we hamper the chances of someone following us. We also destroy our avenue of return.

In the story behind this song, the couple parted. They burned the bridges of capitulation. Now, The singer wants to go back and make things right. He wants to (un)burn the bridges.

Quite a magical feat, don’t you think? Unless you’re Harry Potter with the elder wand, you can’t make something come back after it’s been destroyed by fire. And I just provided an example of my point below.

For the song, I could suggest rebuilding the bridges, but you might say, “We like it the way it is.”

See? It’s an effective, mangled metaphor. It works, because it’s in the chorus of a song and the listener gets to hear it four times. The song moves slow, giving us time to contemplate the image. As a novelist, the last thing I need is to have a reader debate the placement of words or consider a metaphor. If they take time for that, they’re not engaged in the story.

In the example I used, of Harry Potter, you could’ve stopped reading to debate the point of the phoenix. “Aha,” you say. “Faux is reborn from the ashes of a total flame out and he does it all the time.”

As writers of best selling novels we might be able to get away with mangling metaphors, but only if our readers are patient, and if it’s effective. The rest of us, great writers, who struggle, must be careful. As I said if we use them at all, our metaphors need to be fresh, make sense, and must not cause too much thought. Unless you’re writing literary fiction, but that’s another subject.

Good luck in your writing—see you next week.

1 comment:

boredmormon said...

The most jarring mangles I come across in my reading are those that are out of period with the rest of the story. 'The orc charged like a freight train.' Okay, bad example, but you get the picture. Its just enough to make me stop and think, by the time I get back to reading I've lost the thread of the story.