Enter the Storm

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I like to see people who write –all people who sit down and write, not just those who call themselves “writers” — to try to write beautifully and meaningfully.
Photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week
One of the writing concepts that I teach is this:

Complicate the Metaphor

To make writing more meaningful, we all need to back the f*ck away from the cliche cabinet and start thinking about how our readers SEE what we say.

Then, we need to STOP thinking about the readers so much, put our underwear on our heads, and start Dirty Dancing on the TweetDeck.

Because what happens when we obsess about what others think of us too much?

We self-obsess, get dancers block, and never-ever become the Carmen Mirandas we know we can be.

Putting a Fruit Hat on Your Blogging

Here’s an example of two metaphors drawn based on Snoopy’s classic novel opener, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

1. The storm broke the sky in two. Rain fell in buckets. Between the flashing lightening, the night was as black and wet as ink.

Not bad, right? Hmmmm, well, maybe. But these metaphors are tired and expected.This is common writing and it is OK, but no one is ever going to going to send you to Oprah’s Book Club for writing like that. Well, probably not.

Normal Blogger note: Let’s say you just aspire to have more readers. Getting readers, in part, is capturing their IMAGINATION, which that kind of writing doesn’t really achieve.

Let’s try something else. Something a bit more like wearing a breakfast as a garment.

2. Evening shoved out the last feeble rays of day. Night’s black-carpet event planning committee trampled its way across the sky, followed by the pushy flashes and thundering feet of storm-cloud paparazzi. In a relentless herd, the crowd of clouds pushed and squeezed in, then opened up, drowning the lights of a sleeping landscape.

There. Now, is that any good? Hmm. Yeah.  Not perfect. Maybe a  bit forced and needs some work.

But is it cliche?

No.

So Wrong It’s So Right

The key to using “images” that let your readers SEE what you are describing is to use language and ideas which are the exact thing you DON’T think of and that don’t associate with the thing you are describe.

Craft it. It’s take practice to make a fruit basket a hat. It’s takes work to ride Kevin Bacon all the way to Shirley Temple. But it can be done.

Just try. Try with all your ligamental ability.

Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth writes literary non-fiction, haiku, cultural rants, and Demand Poetry in order to forward the cause of beautiful writing. She teaches and speaks about the rhetorical impact of beautiful writing. A recent transplant to Connecticut, she calls London, Kansas City, and Iowa home. 

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  6 comments for “Enter the Storm

  1. October 13, 2010 at 8:16 am

    Hi Elizabeth, your post hits a soft spot with me. I’m a writer by profession (but of a low rank). I entered college as a “writing major.” That quickly ended. It ended when I realized I couldn’t live up to the advice like what you give here.

    I might call myself an easily distracted reader. I like metaphors and I dislike cliches just like the next person. But I like to hang onto single metaphors for a while. That is, as I read, and even as I write, I like a novel metaphor sprinkled here and there … so I can linger on each. Too many metaphors close together turn me off. They become like a speedway of frightening, overly sensory images … like a carnival at night.

    I’ve always looked down on my own writing style because it isn’t rich in metaphors and descriptors, the things praised by those who teach writing.

    • October 13, 2010 at 10:51 am

      Johanna!

      Many writers write “spare” and direct writing. The key is to be authentic and to follow my SECOND piece of advice… STOP worrying about the reader/your husband/ the writing professor and just let your true voice come through.

      There are lots of people who read what I write and have NO idea with the hell I am saying. OK, so it isn’t for everyone. The key is to keep working on your writing to make it uniquely yours.

      I just got an essay rejected by Orion, btw. It was too CLICHE, the editor said! HAH! How’s that for calling the kettle plaid?

  2. October 14, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks Elizabeth. (How great to be addressed by my first name with the exclamation point.) I will write more shamelessly. (I saw that word–the last one–on a billboard, and I wondered whether shameless has any good connotations, despite what it means literally.)

    I don’t always know what you’re saying in these posts, but I hop, skip and land on a few metaphors, enough to satisfy me and keep your posts linked to my e-mail account!

    Might you give me some names of writers who write spare and direct writing (and are good)? The only one that comes to mind is James Galvin, but I’m not sure how well known he is. Thanks! (Or no worries.)

  3. October 14, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    The Santa Ana by Joan Didion is one of my favorites… You can read it online here. She is scary good.
    http://falcon.tamucc.edu/~tmurphy/writers/Ellis/ANA.HTML

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