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Thread: Figurative Language

  1. #1
    I write weird stories. phantasy's Avatar
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    Figurative Language

    Can anyone give me a good advice or sources to learn to write decent metaphors and similes? I try to notice ones I find in books and upon reading them, they make sense, but I have trouble coming up with my own.

    I'm looking mostly for books that do this well. Links are good too.

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    Just pokin' about Anna Spargo-Ryan's Avatar
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    I don't think there is going to be a book that will teach you how to do this.

    Writing good metaphors and similes is about taking the time to observe. Watch the way things move, sound, smell, behave and speak.

    A great metaphor is, as you've said, one that takes X and relates it to Y in a way that is original but retrospectively obvious, and you can only create your own through paying attention and creating your own mental catalogue of the small details, in my opinion.
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    permanently suctioned to Buz's leg Putputt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by annaspargoryan View Post
    I don't think there is going to be a book that will teach you how to do this.

    Writing good metaphors and similes is about taking the time to observe. Watch the way things move, sound, smell, behave and speak.

    A great metaphor is, as you've said, one that takes X and relates it to Y in a way that is original but retrospectively obvious, and you can only create your own through paying attention and creating your own mental catalogue of the small details, in my opinion.
    This is, unfortunately, true.

    I read a lot of Pratchett and he does metaphors and similes that make me go, "Holy shit he is so cunning zomgs!" Still haven't managed to come up with anything half as brillyunt.
    corny: This is the way of the future. Nonsensical fragments and oozingly gross weeping sores of language spilling over the keyboard.

    I feel like corny needs to have a book review site, really.

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    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    Yanno, on one or two especially desperate occasions, I have actually googled 'simile for X' etc. and then I remember why that never works. Because if you're drawing a blank with a simile or metaphor, chances are that it's not a failing in your vocabulary or imagination, but in your experience/perception.

    Being able to craft good similes and mataphors relies upon the ability to make connections with things we have seen, experienced, or otherwise have knowledge of, so the only way to do it is to observe, and practice. Make it part of your everyday language to use similes when describing something - humorous, obscure or poetic, just try to come up with something original to describe something ordinary. I do this all the time (people think I'm a bit weird, but that's ok, I am weird) and it definitely helps when it comes to writing.

    If you don't want people to think you're nuts, try jotting descriptions down throughout the day. Every day choose 5 things - physical or situational - and describe them using a simile or metaphor.
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    we are the words 'i love you' kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Metaphor is a kind of déjà vu. You're stuck at presque vu.

    Whenever you experience something that feels strangely familiar, take a moment and think about why.

    Whenever you feel a twinge of nostalgia, stop and figure out what caused it.

    If you see something particularly beautiful or ugly, ask yourself why you think it's so.

    Read poetry.

    Listen to songs and pay attention to the lyrics while watching the world.

    When you write, go with your first association. Even if it makes no sense. Try to figure out a way to phrase it so it does. Everything is always connected.
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    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    If a good metaphor or simile doesn't leap out and hit you as you write, don't bother trying to make one up because it probably won't work.

    And using too many can become irritating to read. I've read submissions before where similes and metaphors drowned any story.
    Everything yields to treatment.

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    practical experience, FTW Ken's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    Read poetry.
    ... definitely.

    Or maybe don't use met's and sim's at all.
    It isn't essential. Many authors I've read don't.

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    Superpowers: Making babies, writing MeganJoWrites's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bufty View Post
    If a good metaphor or simile doesn't leap out and hit you as you write, don't bother trying to make one up because it probably won't work.

    And using too many can become irritating to read. I've read submissions before where similes and metaphors drowned any story.
    I definitely agree with this! I just read a book in which it seemed as if EVERY action had a metaphor. It started to get distracting.

    If I find that I think a description/action needs a metaphor, I take a moment and try to live that action, if that makes sense. If I want to describe nervousness, I close my eyes and try to remember a time when I was nervous, and how that felt.

    I agree I wouldn't try to force a metaphor.
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    can totally spell Brobdinrgnagrian buzhidao's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bufty View Post
    If a good metaphor or simile doesn't leap out and hit you as you write, don't bother trying to make one up because it probably won't work.
    This, more or less. I use metaphors and similes because things often remind me of other things, so it seems "natural" and comes "naturally" out of my head. (Of course, just because it comes out doesn't mean I should use "a fire hydrant that jutted out of the building like a big iron hemipenis erupting from an obese cyborg dragon" or whatever...)

    Not that it always pops out fully-formed, necessarily--I do sometimes have to fiddle with the wording and stuff, but that's true of most of what I poop out on the page.

    You don't need to force it. It's not a requisite.

    But I think it should come out more naturally if you simply broaden your experiences, sights, smells, etc., and become more aware of them. What does that building remind you of? What does that guy on the subway smell like? (and don't say "shit" unless that is in fact the case; be specific ) What does that piece of art remind you of? ...etc.

    Or the old standby...cloud watching...
    Last edited by buzhidao; 01-25-2013 at 06:35 PM.

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    Moderation in All Things AW Moderator Roger J Carlson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    Read poetry.
    I'd expand this to "read widely".

    Perhaps better question for the OP is "which authors use metaphors well?" The more you read the better feel for them you'll have.
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    Travel biologist, piss-poor fluffer quicklime's Avatar
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    also suggesting you can't just grab a book of them....if they come naturally, great, but if you shoehorn one in, that shoehorning will remain painfully obvious.

    you can probably read poetry and Pratchett and other great authors to "experience" them and this will slowly inform your own writing, but you can't just say "my book needs three metaphors per chapter" and go inserting them as a deliberate, artificial act without it looking deliberate and artificial....at least, I certainly can't.
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    I write weird stories. phantasy's Avatar
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    Thanks all.

    The only reason I ask about this is because I'm writing fantasy (what a surprise) and I'm feeling the best way to immerse reader in the world is through a decently placed metaphor, like I see other books do.

    I guess the thing to do is examine other writers. And realize metaphors isn't needed.

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    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken View Post
    Or maybe don't use met's and sim's at all.It isn't essential. Many authors I've read don't.
    Yeah, it's not essential, but it's a nice tool to have at your disposal, and practice can't harm

    Cloud watching is an excellent idea for simple metaphors, where you're comparing one object to anther - like when I told a friend on FB that his picture of his dad's tractor against a sunset looked like there were mini dinosaurs running across the roof, coz the stratus clouds look JUST like the stampeding herd in Jurassic Park.

    I think he defriended me, coz I aint heard from him since....
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  14. #14
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Only if there's no other way to describe whatever image it is you're trying to convey. If I can picture it from your description then any tacked on metaphor becomes surplus luggage.

    =phantasy;7908140]Thanks all.

    The only reason I ask about this is because I'm writing fantasy (what a surprise) and I'm feeling the best way to immerse reader in the world is through a decently placed metaphor, like I see other books do.
    I guess the thing to do is examine other writers. And realize metaphors isn't needed.
    Everything yields to treatment.

  15. #15
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by phantasy View Post
    Can anyone give me a good advice or sources to learn to write decent metaphors and similes? I try to notice ones I find in books and upon reading them, they make sense, but I have trouble coming up with my own.

    I'm looking mostly for books that do this well. Links are good too.

    Thanks.
    There are no books that can teach this. You have to train your mind to think this way.

    Read a lot of poetry.

    And practice. Find things in your environment to describe metaphorically. Get in the habit of seeing things in terms of other things. For instance, the moon is never just the moon. It's a wing trailing feathers of cloud. It's a distant thumbprint in the sky. It's a lopsided pearl. It's as thin as a nail paring. It's flushed rose like the cheek of sleepy child.

  16. #16
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    I never consciously try to come up with a metaphor or a simile. They just happen. I think they really come from listening to people talk. I certainly don't get them from books, and I never sit around thinking about either.

  17. #17
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    The book I found helpful is Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan. This is it: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/842641.Word_Painting .

  18. #18
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    I would try to find good examples and bad examples in books and poetry. Then try to deconstruct them to see what makes the good ones work and why the bad ones failed. Then in your own writing, you may find that they naturally come to you. Definitely don't force them.

  19. #19
    Tell it like it Is Susan Littlefield's Avatar
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    Similes and metaphors come naturally as you are writing.
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  20. #20
    practical experience, FTW Ken's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kallithrix View Post
    Yeah, it's not essential, but it's a nice tool to have at your disposal, and practice can't harm

    Cloud watching is an excellent idea for simple metaphors, where you're comparing one object to anther - like when I told a friend on FB that his picture of his dad's tractor against a sunset looked like there were mini dinosaurs running across the roof, coz the stratus clouds look JUST like the stampeding herd in Jurassic Park.

    I think he defriended me, coz I aint heard from him since....
    ... agree. No harm in practicing, at all. But if that isn't entirely working then there's nothing wrong in skipping the similes and seeking other ways to rev up the description, if needed. Like I said, I've read a lot of novels where the prose is unadorned. Suits the author's style, and may suit the OP's. Something they have to decide. Trial and error is always a good way of proceeding, like you say.

    ps Neat about the clouds, though to do it properly you've got to be lying down on a grassy, flower-strewn meadow :-)

  21. #21
    Bring me a knitting needle. Atalanta's Avatar
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    I'll second the suggestion to read poetry -- but also try your hand at writing it. If you've never done it before, it can be extremely awkward at first, but it's worth the effort (and remember, you never have to show them to anyone). Write a poem about a single emotion, or a scene, or an event you've experienced, and the intensity of the short-form will invite you to draw on other emotions, scenes, or events to help convey its meaning.

    I've found that my similes and metaphors come from my passion for wild places -- which is convenient since I mostly write Fantasy with a lot of traveling. Whether I'm hiking or camping, or wandering a beach, those places remain vivid to me even after I've returned to my desk. I can describe them in a sort of free-form narration -- and that's often what springs to mind as a simile or metaphor when I'm writing.

    What are your passions? What places are evocative for you? Where do those things intersect with your work? Find out, and then spend time wandering; go more than once, and at various times: at dawn or dusk, or in the dark, when it's crowded, deserted, too cold for comfort, or too hot. You don't have to take notes, or memorize what you see -- your subconscious (your muse) will remember it for you.

    As has been said, metaphors and similes aren't necessary for good writing. But if you enjoy them, there's no harm in investing a little time loading up on material to work with.
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    we are the words 'i love you' kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken View Post
    Or maybe don't use met's and sim's at all.
    It isn't essential. Many authors I've read don't.
    I find not using figurative language tends to make for bland prose. Like Hemingway's.

    ...I guess there are worse things.
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    practical experience, FTW magicmint's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bufty View Post
    Only if there's no other way to describe whatever image it is you're trying to convey. If I can picture it from your description then any tacked on metaphor becomes surplus luggage.
    Nope. Similes and Metaphors are great tools for conveying sub-text.

    If you wanna start using figurative language, start thinking and speaking in it. Everytime you pass something go, 'this thing is like such and such', and eventualy it will become second nature. Takes practice like many other things in writing!
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    Tastes like happy Marniy's Avatar
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    For authors who do it well and ...lavishly.
    Check out Chuck Wendig and Simon R Greene.
    Windig especially is an earthy sort, so don't read unless you're ok with naughty words and metaphors. He uses a LOT of them. Sometimes they're distracting, but mostly I think they're so completely unhinged, I laugh.
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  25. #25
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    Don't stress too much about the lack of similes and metaphors. If they don't come naturally, the reader will be able to tell. A whole lot of books are very successful without using that much figurative language.

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