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Write about a metaphor you used in one of your books.
What does it represent?
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Metaphor (n.) a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. (Oxford Dictionary)
Modern theory poses that all language is, in essence, metaphor. I think this is why I wince when I get asked questions about metaphors. Well–that and it seems to be the go-to device literarily speaking. Their dull-overuse has diminished their appeal.
My problem with metaphor is when an author overindulges in the use of the device, especially on worn paths. I know you saw what I just did there. This was the point. Simultaneously defining metaphor and showing the cliché aspect of them is important to the discussion.
Now that you’re anchored by that example, you’ll be ready to recognize these in all their hackneyed deliveries or genius glory. That said, don’t be too hard on authors. When you think they’ve made the mistake of using a too-well-worn metaphor, keep in mind that the intertext may be precisely what was sought. Like Freud is attributed with saying, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Sometimes an author uses a tired out metaphor because it delivers the precise implications and emotions necessary in the moment. Your groan and eye roll can very much be planned!
Authors can misgauge the usage, too. That’s more of what I’m speaking out against. How so? While the use of a tired metaphor is meticulously planned it can still fall as flat as whipped cream dropped on the kitchen floor. It’s like a joke that relies on the audience being not only in on the intertext but in the mood for it. The formula relies on timing and other variables that aren’t so easily predicted. In other words, blind spots can make your joke flop.
Metaphors can be found throughout my work wherever you look, because I believe, like current theorists do, anything can be viewed as a metaphor. Take the Atlantic Ocean in OP-DEC, for instance. A reader may see the boundless unknown that surrounds Reiniger. While he stands there before Claire, there is much beneath, behind, and in front of him that is unknown. Water, likewise, has long been thought of as symbolic of emotion. Claire wrestles in this scene with deep and long held histories. Those histories churn and flow with the potential of sinking her at any moment.
In light of these ideas, the scene above becomes that much deeper, just like the sea itself. All of it being seen by the reader depends on each readers intertexts. Some will read right past that, while others find even more treasure buried in the pages–nesting dolls, Easter eggs… Scene as metaphor and so on can be quite powerful to expressing gads of meaning efficiently.
If you seek something that has pages and pages of such treasure, I heartily recommend the Trailokya Trilogy. A student of semiotics, intertexts, and such theories, would have years of work to unpack. Mythology is a rich field of metaphor and related language systems. I’ve written on that topic quite a few times before, so I won’t belabor the topic here.
An example of the work done in the trilogy can lead one on quite the treasure hunt! Let me mention the meaning of the moon and wolves, the color blue in armor, a race of transdimensional aliens who inspired tales of gods, or even character names. Everything harkens back to other texts. Meanings ripple and intersect. The trilogy will sufficiently entertain those who just seek a wild ride, but will also deliver again and again as layers are peeled back to reveal the treasures the text contains in the way of meaning making (semiotics).
Metaphors can be simplistic or complex. They can be tired or innovative. Regardless, they cannot be avoided. They’re a treasure box loaded up and waiting for the reader to unlock them. I recommend taking more time with a text to unpack the inferences and intertexts. This way, you may discover that the usage was far more clever than at first attributed. Moreover, think of the meanings that just expanded the reading experience. They can be mind-blowing, even if they are old ones.
Check out the other author answers via their links below. Whether you’re a reader or a writer, you will definitely learn something and deepen the experiences you have with the art form.
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Richard Dee says
When I’m writing, as far as I’m concerned, “a cigar is a cigar.” My readers often see it differently and ascribe meanings and depth that I never saw, intended or realised.
Captain Maiel says
My intent is usually direct, too. but it’s fabulous how I can find so many nuances and other treasures worked in without being conscious of them at the time. Kismet, in a way.
Stevie Turner says
Yes, reading your post I think it’s frowned upon if an author uses too many metaphors, especially well-known clichés. I try to leave them out.