Dress It Up

When was the last time you told someone, “My luve’s like a red, red rose”? Probably never, right? Perhaps you leave those sentiments to poets like Robert Burns (who penned those words) or Andy Murray. Or perhaps such language seems stilted to you in the every day. But chances are you use figurative language—similes, metaphors, personification, hyperbole, alliteration, onomatopoeia—quite often, even if you’re not overly conscious of doing so. Ever say, “Boom” or “Hush”? Onomatopoeia. “LOL, Loser”? Alliteration. “He is a panther, sleek and sly”? Metaphor.

Fig Lang

But you know all of that. And you also know how figurative language can dress up a line of prose or poetry. An apt phrase can replace miles and miles of exposition. For example, we all know how destructive fire can be. So instead of taking three paragraphs to describe how one character (Character A) is a bad influence on another (Character B), we might have Character B tell someone that Character A is “like fire.” (But we would remember that many cliché phrases involve fire and of course would try to avoid those.)

Fire

Back in my grad school days, I showed my advisor a scene from my Tolkienesque fantasy novel for teens, which involved a teen approaching his dying mother. The following paragraphs are from that scene. I mentioned that scene because I included some figurative language. I won’t keep you in suspense—my advisor hated this scene.

From the cottage doorway, she looked like a doll left on the bed: small and fragile. Even the hill of the child she carried seemed dwarfed by the faded patchwork quilt.

Though the lamps had been lit, the cottage was full of late afternoon shadows and a quiet beyond the absence of the others. . . .

He swallowed, trying to make his voice steady, trying to ask what he didn’t want to ask. “What did you see?” He could tell by her face that she’d had a vision. Though they could communicate mind to mind, he could never see what she saw. Her visions were random, virulent things.

After a vision her green eyes were like birds, restless, flitting until the touch of his father’s hand calmed her, brought her back from wherever the vision took her. This time, it didn’t look as if she would ever return.

Why did she hate this? Well, she knew something about me as a writer: I was not really paying attention to the characters in the scene. I was more concerned with the language of the scene—how “pretty” I could make it. That’s what she hated. She wanted to care about the characters—not my attempt to sound lyrical.

Lest you think she seemed overly harsh, please understand that she did me a favor. I could see why the scene didn’t work, and especially why a reader would feel emotionally manipulated (cue the violin music). I wound up rewriting the whole book anyway. (That scene was not included.)

So the use of figurative language has pros and cons. If you keep character foremost in your mind as you consider using figurative language, your writing will be wonderfully effective. And unlike me you’ll avoid giving a lyrical line of dialogue to a three-year-old, no matter how eloquently the sentiments are expressed. After all, since three-year-olds are learning to form sentences, they wouldn’t trot out a simile or a metaphor. But they might say, “Boom!”

028

She says his head is like an empty room. He says she is the wind beneath his wings. Can this relationship work? The beauty of figurative language.

Watch, if you dare, a blast from the past—a video by Bell Biv DeVoe featuring their 1990 hit, “Poison” (or just listen, if the video images bother you). Figurative language? Yup. It’s got it.

Figurative language image from gcps.desire2learn.com. Fire from losangelesawyersource.com.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

I’ll bet you know that the title of this post is a variation on lines from Robert Burns’s poem, “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough.” And you also know that the title of John Steinbeck’s book, Of Mice and Men, came from the same poem. Go, you.

                230px-PG_1063Burns_Naysmithcrop   890

Burns and Steinbeck

The lines from Burns’s poem actually go like this:

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley

I thought about those lines when I headed out to my car the other day, and saw the feral cat sitting on top of the grass/weed heap near my parking space. Why do I call him the feral cat? I live in a no pet building. This orange tabby—abandoned by someone undoubtedly—has adopted my building as his home base, though he lives outside. (And yes, I sometimes feed him.)

006

Somewhere in this photo is a cat if you look really hard. . . .

For a small rodent or a bird, it’s never a good sign when a cat sits so still and his eyes are open. I believe Feral Cat waited for a mouse or a bird to appear. After all, this is the same cat who months ago toyed with a mouse in my parking space just as I pulled up to park in it. The cat would allow the mouse to run a short distance, then would pounce on it. He did this over and over. Finally after a few tense minutes with me sitting there fuming, the cat grabbed the mouse and ran off. (For those of you who like mice, sorry. I was not about to get between that cat and that mouse.)

With that memory in mind, I cringed when I saw the predator hunched on the hill. By the time I scrambled to take a few photos, the mouse or whatever the cat waited for still hadn’t arrived. The best laid plans, as they say. So he settled down to stare at me and possibly roll his eyes at my clumsy attempts at photography (see above). I was a bit relieved. I didn’t relish watching him attack another a mouse.

Speaking of the best laid plans, what prompted this post, besides the fact that I still have yet to give away the Shadowfell series by Juliet Marillier (see interview; this is due to spam-bots who posted as fans and real fans who now already own the books), is the fact that I’m frustrated by my progress (or lack thereof) in my novel revision and, to a degree, in life. I had hoped to be finished with my revision, or at least around page 250 or 300. I haven’t even reached page 200! The best laid plans . . .

I’d also hoped I would at least be at a point in my life where I made the kind of dough (money for those who aren’t familiar with the colloquial term dough) that allowed me to book a trip to Rome for research and not blink an eye at the expense. Um, nope. Not even close. The best laid plans . . .

Colosseum-Rebuilt

I wasn’t one of those kids who had a plan for her life along the lines of, “When I grow up, I wanna be a supermodel, a CEO, an astronaut, and a pirate.” I was too busy breaking things at home, writing stories, and daydreaming. See? I’m the ultimate pantser, even in life. Having a plan would be like outlining. After my days as an undergraduate, I also didn’t have a ready-made plan for my life other than “get a job.” It’s interesting how “get a job” later turned into “keep a job” in a steadily tightening economy. Soon, the plan to “get a job” returned when “keep a job” wasn’t exactly feasible. The best laid plans . . .

Often plans have to make way for new plans. (Like my plan for having this post up on Thursday. It didn’t happen obviously.) The word flexible comes to mind—the need to be flexible in this time of plans made and plans unmade.

yoga-ss-tight-1

Somehow, flexibility seemed easier when I was eight years old, and my only complaint was that my parents wouldn’t take my brothers and me to McDonald’s (always my plan). Instead of being flexible—rolling with life’s changes, life’s disappointments, life’s that-cat-is-in-my-parking-space again—I feel like a pretzel, instead of someone gracefully bending back like the woman above. But I keep trying, keep bending, keep making those plans that might have to be unmade.

pretzel_0

At least I’m thankful for one thing: I’m not a mouse hiding in that grass heap with a cat sitting on top waiting for me to make a move.

Mouse

Have your best laid plans ever been overturned? How did you stay flexible?

Mouse and Robert Burns painting from Wikipedia. Book cover from Goodreads. Yoga photo from womenshealthmag.com. Pretzel from sweetclipart.com. Colosseum from photo from 2.bp.blogspot.com.