Debasing Your Language, Part II: Personalizing Metaphor

Understanding Writer Lingo

In my last post, I set up the purpose of metaphors. However, metaphors—in addition to diction—should be close to the voice and experiences of the POV character as well. In a way, this is debasing the metaphor.

Take, for example, the hero in my novel, CHRONICLES OF A WITCH-HUNTER, who is a carpenter. His metaphors will most likely be influenced by his life as a carpenter.

I could write a metaphor as follows: Travis walked down the alley like a drunk clown.

Now, that’s not completely outside the range of his experiences, but perhaps a better metaphor—more personally relevant metaphor—for Travis would be as follows: Travis walked down the alley. His shoes, made heavy by the day’s mud, scraped the concrete like wet sandpaper and loaded him down like concrete.

I’m not a fan of either of those sentences, but they illustrate the point of personalizing the metaphor to the character’s experiences. However, if I further develop or characterize Travis, and the reader finds out that he had a horrible, childhood experience with a clown, then the first metaphor becomes relevant. That scene set in the present timeline, then, would most likely be traumatic for him like how the childhood clown experience would have been a terrifying memory.

So, revising that first metaphor, I could make it more relevant to Travis’s life experiences by writing: Travis stumbled down the alley. His shoes were heavy, long, and wicked like Curly’s—that damn clown that slunk around the funhouse and groped.

That’s not bad, and there’s a lot the reader could infer from the diction. (I’m gonna keep that one and put it in my book. I’ll probably keep the others and work them in somewhere in my writing.)

Diction and metaphor allow the reader to see into the character’s mind, the character’s personality, and the character’s life—both past and present. Character development then becomes key. The author needs to know their characters.

My next post will cover how I develop characters, and—like with most everything else in the art of writing—there’s no one, right answer or style. There’s only what works best for the writer.

Just a side-note on the timing of this post: I’ve decided to post every Saturday. This’ll keep a more regular, predictable schedule rather than me posting ever four to seven days. However, I might throw in an extra post here and there when the mood strikes me, but that won’t negate the scheduled Saturday posts.

Author: Chuck Lang

Chuck Lang is a writer of science fiction and horror. Influenced by his years as a carpenter, four years serving in the US Navy, and his fifteen years teaching literature, he holds an MFA in Writing (Fiction) from Lindenwood University. After completing his first manuscript, the supernatural horror novel DEAD GODS, in 2019, he has begun work on its two sequels, DEAD GODS: INHERITANCE and DEAD GODS: RESOLUTION. He is currently developing two additional projects, an urban fantasy horror novel and a military science fiction novel. He lives and writes near the frequently flooded Red River in Fargo, ND with his wife and two redhead sons.

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