MYC: Using Metaphor

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss pre-writing and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we talked about revising your world building. This week, Gita Trelease and Gabrielle Byrne talk about how to create powerful metaphors.

Metaphor and simile are among the richest, most useful tools in any writer’s kit. The word “metaphor” comes from the Greek metapherein: meta, meaning “across, over” and pherein, meaning “carry, or bear.”  The word describes what a metaphor does: it carries meaning from one place to another.

A writer uses metaphor and simile to do the same thing, that is, by “carrying meaning” from one thing to another, a metaphor brings together two seemingly dissimilar things as a way of deepening the reader’s understanding. Ideally, the comparisons are surprising and help the reader see something they hadn’t seen before.

Simile uses “like” or “as” to highlight one aspect of similarity: “Pip’s uncle was like a burning-down house, angry and about to collapse.” Or, “Pip’s uncle was as angry as a burning-down house.” Here, I’m saying that Pip’s uncle was angry in the same way a raging house fire is angry, but that’s all I’m saying. A simile is specific and limited, because sometimes you just want to talk about one aspect of the two things you’re comparing.

Metaphor, though, sets up an identity for the reader (and often the writer) to explore. Using metaphor, I would say, “Pip’s uncle was a burning-down house.” Pip’s uncle = burning-down house. He is the whole flaming thing, not just a part of it. And once I’ve set that identity up, I can go further if I want, extending the metaphor: “Pip’s uncle was a burning-down house. And if you’d forgotten something inside, you weren’t never going back in to get it.”  I could even keep going, describing the burning house, how the fire started, what was destroyed—all the while still describing Pip’s uncle.

At the root, metaphor and simile are both powerful tools in the author’s arsenal, but both are just comparisons. So what makes them so powerful then, you might ask. My explanation is that writing a book is a little like a bachelor party.

Um, sorry Gabby, you lost me.

So, you know that bit when all the guys pile in the window and pretend-kidnap the groom and tie him to a chair and take him out and lead him from one place to another and the whole thing is a blast for everyone? Yeah, that. That’s what authors do. We go in and stealthily bind the reader to our story like a bachelor to his party chair. One loop for the characters they love, another for exciting plot lines, one for beautiful prose, and metaphors? Metaphors make great knots. They connect the physical and the emotional, or the emotional and the spiritual, using details that plumb the story’s heart. They tie the reader to the character in deep ways that can’t be easily undone.

Her hair rose in the wind, black ribbons that whipped the air, her anger holding back the storm.

  • Physical (black hair)
  • Emotional (she’s mad about something)
  • Spiritual (okay it’s a stretch, but the storm)

The best metaphors (IMHO) always draw from at least two of these areas. Added to this is that there are certain categories of things, that are intrinsically bound to our human hearts. Their very nature is emotional. Using one of these categories in your metaphor makes the knot that much stronger. I talked a little about these in the MYC post on fantasy world building (weather, food, housing, and religion/spirituality). On top of these universal categories, you may also have some “Bonus character quality” categories that are deeply powerful, because they act as reminders to the reader of the essence of the character/s in that scene. For example, a cook is going to use lots of food metaphors, but a soldier might use lots of battle/blood/loss metaphors. A seamstress might describe things using lots of sewing metaphors:

The sparks in his dark eyes gleamed, silver threads tugging her forward and meant just for her.

  • Physical (dark eyes)
  • Emotional (passion)
  • Bonus Quality (she’s a seamstress)

These character-specific metaphors can also work by comparing something that’s happening to one character, to a quality in another:

The needle of her intent sharpened against Billy’s guileless smile.

The comparisons can work alone (the sea was a cold embrace), or you can deepen them further with added details (the sea was a cold embrace, heartless and unforgiving). It can be fun to play with reader expectation at this level too, as in this simile:

Her teeth were like Desperado pearls, and I figured they were just as stolen.

Last but not least, the way an author uses metaphor can set up a tone for the whole book. A dark, psychological thriller might use dark and eerie metaphors:

She waited, holding her breath until she was certain the men had gone. Her feet pressed against the cold tile as a single beam of moonlight arched across the kitchen floor, a slow, silent bird diving toward dawn.   

While a quirky, funnier story might go with quirky, funny metaphors:

The new girl had a pancake face, wide and doughy, but sure to make a person happy by the time breakfast was over.

Playing with metaphor is a great way to get more energy and depth into your story. If you use them to explore your characters and your world, you’ll be sure to lift the whole manuscript to another level.

We hope you’ll come back next for next Wednesday’s MYC post to learn about Writing With Sensitivity.

Gabrielle Byrne’s debut MG fantasy, RISE OF THE DRAGON MOON, is due out in Winter, 2019 with Imprint/Macmillan. She’s represented by Catherine Drayton. Learn more about her at www.gkbyrnebooks.com

Gita Trelease writes YA fantasy. She was born in Sweden and has lived in France, Italy, and the United States. In her former life as a college professor, she taught classes on fairy tales, monsters, and Victorian criminals. Along with her artist husband, teenage son, and Maine Coon, Gita divides her time between a boarding school in Massachusetts and the wild Maine coast. Her current project takes place during the French Revolution: hot-air balloons and gambling, decadence and dark magic. Also, wigs. She is represented by Molly Ker Hawn at The Bent Agency. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.

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An Interview with Manuscript Academy co-founder Jessica Sinsheimer

Manuscript Academy Happy #MSWL day! Today, agents and editors from around the world will Tweet their wish-lists. It’s a great way to fine tune your query list and to get an idea of what editors are looking for as well.

Manuscript Wish List co-founder Jessica Sinsheimer has been hard at work on another project recently as well: The Manuscript Academy. She stopped by The Winged Pen to chat with us about this exciting new opportunity for writers.

You already do so much for the writing community by running the amazing Manuscript Wish List, what made you decide to add The Manuscript Academy to your repertoire?

It’s actually an idea that had been brewing for years.  I was invited to speak at a conference a few years back—an amazing conference, one that sounded like so much fun. But, when I asked about travel stipend, they said that there wasn’t one—I could only get discounted admission. So I started pricing it out, and soon realized it would be well over $2,000 to attend. Worse, some told me that if I “really cared” about my career, I’d pay it.

It had never occurred to me that the events I attended regularly could be so expensive for writers—and that’s before considering the logistics of childcare, health, religious obligations, family needs, and just plain time. Plus, there’s just so much pressure to go—probably even more than was put on me, because I get to attend so many. It just seemed incredibly unfair. Having money shouldn’t be a prerequisite to a writing career. So this stayed with me, as a problem we needed to solve as an industry, but I didn’t know how.

But then co-founder Julie Kingsley and I met—thanks to a wild coincidence of her being on a bus to Book Expo with my colleague, then invited to networking drinks—and I was so impressed with her knowledge of the film, media, tech, and startup worlds. These were things I assumed were out of my reach forever, however fascinating I found them. But we quickly realized that, together, we could finally make something like this happen—and bring the conference to writers, in a way that’s accessible to so many more.

The concept is great–prerecorded content from industry professionals with unlimited access for thirty days for a price lower than any writing conference around, plus a series of live pitch sessions, critique sessions, and live webinars. How has the reception been so far?  

It’s been incredibly exciting. If anything, there’s been a LOT more enthusiasm than I expected (though I’m the pessimist of the group!) I mean, new different things are scary! Especially new, different things with technology. But we now have about 700 members, and the community is only growing. Lots of members are getting agents and book deals. We’re actually going to start making “class reunion” events to keep everyone in touch, because these are the people who are going to grow, learn, and eventually succeed together.

It’s always been important to me that we price everything as low as we can while still paying every single person who works for us—including those who helped Xerox and hold doors and organize agents and get snacks on filming day—a living hourly wage. We work with incredibly talented, kind people. And I’m thrilled that we could pay everyone right away.

There are lots of online writing courses out there and I know from experience that the quality varies greatly. How do you select faculty? How would you recommend writers decide how to spend their precious personal development dollars?

We select faculty not just for their brilliance but for their openness, kindness, and breadth of interests. I know it’s so scary to find yourself face to face with an agent—even if it’s through a screen. I wanted to be sure that I could trust everyone to handle that with grace, warmth, and kindness—to turn in work on time—and to bring new insight to their classes.

It’s true—there is SO much content out there. But we were very thoughtful about every single faculty member, every choice of class, and every new program. We’re very conscious of the fact that we’re not taking money from, say, bankers. We want everyone to feel like they get not just instruction, but a feeling of connection and support, from our programs.

Some people learn best in a group—and for that, we have classes (including our brand new Five Days To A Fab First Page challenge) where people can absorb the material, talk about it in a group, and then have live interaction with our faculty. Some people want individual feedback—for them, we have Ten Minutes With An Expert meetings to go over queries and first pages—and written critiques, so the notes are there and ready to be implemented.

Both of these web sites (MSWL & MA) are gorgeous. Who is your designer/tech guru? 

We work with Mike Chen and Sierra Godfrey of Atmosphere Author Websites. They seriously saved my life on the ManuscriptWishList.com site. Version 2.0 was a site that I updated myself—every time someone wanted a change, I did it. This was fine for awhile, but as we grew, it became not just a second job, but was taking over my life! Mike and Sierra then, as if by magic, appeared—offered to make a new site to benefit the community—and spent months with me (more than six months!) redoing the site in a way that made it sustainable for the future. Now agents and editors can update their own profiles, searchability is VASTLY improved, it’s MUCH prettier, and there are just so many things that work better. I could never have done it without them.

Plus, they’re both writers, so they really understand the creative brain that doesn’t get all of the tech speak—and could translate my clumsy descriptions of what I was hoping for into something that looks gorgeous and just works.

What’s next for The Manuscript Academy?

 Our next goal is to bring low-cost mini-courses to as many people as possible—all while creating a supportive community. Ultimately, we’re about access—to information, experts, and the support you need while taking this amazing creative journey.

You can check out ManuscriptAcademy.com, follow us at @MSWLMA, and check out our FREE podcast—including a mini first pages panel every week—on iTunes and Soundcloud. See more at ManuscriptAcademy.com/ourpodcast/.

Coming Back After a Writing Hiatus

Does life ever get in the way of your writing? It does for me, and never more so than during my recent move from Georgia to Canada. With all of the logistics that came with moving a family internationally, I was forced to set aside my writing for a period of more months than I care to admit.

It wasn’t until after we were settled and my children started school that I finally had the time and emotional energy to get back to work. Unsure where to start after such a long break, I reached out to my friends at The Winged Pen to get their advice. Their thoughts were so helpful that I asked for their permission to share them with all of you.

Q: How do you get back to your writing after a hiatus?

 Halli: I’m dealing with that now. I just tried to jump into my manuscript, but I’ve been out of the story for so long, I’ve lost the feel and voice. So I am diving back in with research I need to do for the story.

Julie: Between travel and Pitch Wars, I took six weeks off this summer. I wanted to ease back into things, but not too gently because I didn’t want it to take another month for me to get going again. So this weekend, I made a 30-day revision plan. I reread my notes to myself about what needed to happen to take this zero draft from dumpster fire to something I could send to CPs by the end of September. I mapped out a new beat sheet (because I’m changing a couple of the plot points and getting rid of some others) and created a chapter map with color coding for the four act plot/character arc structure, with an added set of columns for the themes & subplots to make sure they’re echoing enough/making regular appearances in the storyline. Then yesterday, I sat down and started reading. It took me at least an hour, maybe two, to get back into the voice, but after a while, I was able to start making tweaks, and tweaks led to a new scene, and now I feel like I’m back in the groove. My ms just happens to have 30 chapters, so I wrote 1-30 on my chalkboard and will try my best to cross off at least one chapter a day until I’m done! That will hopefully give me some accountability, plus I get a huge sense of accomplishment when I cross off those numbers on the chalkboard.

Kate: What helps me, like Julie, is setting up a schedule. I did my month of poetry as a kickstart. Then I tried to get back into the manuscript, but was still dithering a bit. Finally, I just gave myself some deadlines. I’m writing 3k a week (2 pages a day, 6 days a week). I have a chart. I’ve accepted that I’m basically a toddler when it comes to whining and stubbornness, and sticker charts and rewards are really helpful!

Rebecca: Tackling a new revision is always intimidating. I find that setting a timed-goal for my first couple dips into revising really helps. The hard part is thinking about revising 96,000 words. If I pick a place to start and tell myself to work for 45 minutes and then I can have a break, I find by the end of the 45 minutes that I’m usually engaged with the work and happy to keep revising.

Richelle: Scheduling usually works for me. I like to dedicate a couple of nights a week to an away-from-home writing session. It’s on the calendar so everyone knows I’ll be unavailable. I find that having even just two nights a week to immerse myself in writing means that I can squeeze in shorter (but very productive) bursts the rest of the week because I have those longer stretches to really figure out what I need to do.

Jessica: In addition to incorporating many of the suggestions above, I’ve decided to jump back in by reading my entire manuscript and writing myself an edit letter—something that I can use as a roadmap for revisions.

One last thought:

People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.
– Harlan Ellison

With that in mind, let’s all get back to work!

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production, and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Canada, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com.

MYC: Revising A World

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we continued our series on revision with Dynamic Dialogue. This week, we’re diving in to how to revise your world-building.

Building a world is a lot like building a life. There are a lot of ways to do it. For me, when I’ve got pages and pages of ideas and details, and mythology, and STUFF written about my world, it can be difficult to sort out what’s important to keep, and what’s chaff. In the moments when I begin writing my story, I try to remember that the world is like another character. It gains power in relation to other characters.

What that means is that it’s the details that are important. Not just any details, but those which tie to the heart of the people in that place—the details that matter to the characters. A few well-placed details of the world, in relationship with the characters are much more evocative than a vast array of details that aren’t bound to someone’s heart. Compare these two approaches to sharing details of a world:

Example 1: The table was scattered with oogleberries, picked from the tanglewood that hangs from the darkest edges of the cliffs of Baka. The sour purple berries weren’t ripe, and with a growl, I threw them to a banglebird sitting on the veranda.

Example 2: I sat down and popped a handful of oogleberries in my mouth, letting out a squeak as the bitter zing tensed all the muscles in my jaw. Mara had done it again. I’d lost count of how many times I had told my sister to pinch the leaves to see if they were ripe. It was like she was doing it on purpose. Groaning, I spit the berries out in my hand, resolving to make Mara eat them herself. This was just perfect. Now I would go to school with a headache and purple stains on my hand. I could forget about a good first impression. Everyone would take one look at me and think—amateur.

Taken at face value, the first paragraph has more world-building in it. It’s a broader stroke. The problem is we don’t connect with it. It has no real relationship to us. It’s when we dig deeper, and put it in relationship with the MC, and her sister, that we connect. We can learn about the banglebirds, and the cliffs, and the tanglewood as we get to them, in the context of the story, and when they matter.

That’s not to say things can’t sometimes be mentioned in passing, but those things should be a set up. If there are things in your world that need history/explanation (at some point) they should serve the story. They can serve the plot, or they can serve the internal development of the character, but they should matter.

For example, we first hear about a “bezoar” in passing, in Harry Potter’s first ever poisons lesson. We hear about it again, in the Goblet of Fire, when Harry is freaking out about how to ask Cho Chang to the ball. Bezoars come up again during potions class, in Half-Blood Prince, and then at last, Harry remembers what he’s learned about a bezoar and must find one to save his friend’s life. The details about the thing are trickled in when they’re relevant  (potions class) to move the story, as we need to know them. This works as a fantastic set up, because it’s repeated, and because it’s not swamped in a mire of other factoids. We learn more as Harry comes into relationship with the bezoar, and as it becomes important. Beware of stacking oddities and details simply to say, ‘hey look at all the stuff I know about this world’.

By revealing your world as your characters move through it, it becomes easier to figure out which details are vital and evocative, and which can be cut, or left in the pages of your pre-work for another time, or another book. It may be anti-intuitive at first (more is better, right?), but you’ll find that it’s the micro—the deeper dive over the course of the story—that will have universal appeal, and will paint the broader picture of your world.

–GABRIELLE K. BYRNE writes MG/YA fantasy in Olympia, Washington where she lives with her husband and two daughters. Gabby studied opera in Philadelphia, medieval studies in New York, literature in Scotland, and marine biology in the Pacific Northwest, but writing is the common thread that ties all her passions together. Her debut, RISE OF THE DRAGON MOON, comes out in winter, 2019 with Imprint/Macmillan. She is represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management. Find her on Twitter. Her web site is here.

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MYC: Dynamic Dialogue

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we continued our series on revision with Editing the Big PictureThis week, we’re diving in to crafting dynamic dialogue.

Are your readers complaining of stilted dialogue, too many monologues, or not enough “voice” in your characters’ spoken words? If yes, you might need to take a look at your dialogue technique. Step one of revision is to listen, both to conversations (particularly conversations among people the same age as your characters) and to your own writing by reading aloud.

If you listen closely to virtually any conversation, you’ll notice that it is chock-full of fillers—words that take up space (thus giving the speaker time to think), but don’t mean anything. Although it might be tempting to include these fillers on the page, including words such as “um,” “uh”, and “like” don’t read well.

Another mistake it’s easy to fall into is writing dialogue that is too “on the nose,” which comes across as stilted and unnatural. This will jump off the page to you as you read aloud. But how to fix it? Except on very formal occasions, it’s rare for us to speak in complete and grammatically correct sentences or mention people by name multiple times in a single conversation. Instead, we almost always speak in contractions and fragments instead of complete sentences. Good dialogue should reflect the length and cadence of actual speech, but in tighter, condensed form. So get out the red pen and start chopping.

Furthermore, conversations are often loaded with hidden meaning, or subtext that can be layered on in revision. For example, a friend recently spent a great deal of time sewing my daughter a duvet cover, which made her son feel anxious and jealous.

Wanting to make sure the reader didn’t miss the emotional cues, you might write, “Mother, I feel jealous you are spending so much time on my friend. Will you make me a duvet cover so I know you love me, too?”

Of course this is what the boy means, but when writing dialogue, it’s important to leave plenty of room for the reader to make inferences. For example, the son’s emotions could be shown by depicting him hovering behind his mother at the sewing machine and asking, “Mom, if I wanted a duvet cover, would you make me one?” or even “Why are you spending so much time on that stupid duvet cover?”

Along the same lines is the temptation to use dialogue to convey backstory that the writer needs the reader to have but that the characters would already know (and thus not have a reason to tell each other). For example, a writer might need the reader to know that two sisters have a mother who died of cancer. It would be easy to have one of the sisters say, “Remember when Mom died of cancer after undergoing extensive chemotherapy when we were really little? Boy, do I miss her.”

But of course in real life two sisters wouldn’t need to tell each other about their shared experience. This scene could be revised to layer in subtext and character as follows:

As they walked out the door, Cherise unwrapped a red and white striped mint the server had delivered with their bill.

“How can you eat those things?” Latesha asked.

Cherise popped the mint in her mouth and ran her tongue over the smooth, sugary surface.

“I just can’t,” Latesha said. “Reminds me too much of the hospital.”

“It helps me remember,” Cherise said.

“Watching her go through chemo is one of the things I’d like to forget.”

“Not the chemo,” said Cherise. “Mom. Her breath was always so sweet and minty after.”

Not only does this dialogue reveal important information (Mom died of cancer), it shows us (without telling us) how the girls each feel about this shared experience. And it does so in short, natural bits of dialogue that don’t tend toward monologue. A good rule of thumb is that no character should say more than three “beats” (short phrases) without a gesture, dialogue tag, or another speaker breaking up the dialogue. Read more about the three-beat rule.

Finally, no conversation on dialogue would be complete without mentioning dialogue tags. As tempting as it is to include tags such as whispered, shouted, bellowed, groaned, etc., most of the time it’s better to stick with “said” or “asked.” These words disappear for the readers rather than calling attention to themselves. Similarly, it’s best to leave off qualifiers such as softly, quietly, and loudly unless these are absolutely essential for the reader to experience the scene (99% of the time, they are not).

If you are interested in reading more about writing dialogue, here are a couple links:

And don’t forget to tune in next week for refining world building.

A photo of author Julie Artz
Photo credit: Gail Werner

JULIE ARTZ writes stories for children that feature the natural world, folklore, mythology, history, and all that is magical about those things. In addition to contributing to The Winged Pen, she works as a developmental editor for Author Accelerator, is a Pitch Wars mentor, and contributes regularly to From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. She is represented by Jennie Dunham of Dunham Lit. You can also follow her on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

 

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A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com.

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