Roses are red, violets are blue, all my metaphors have been said, so what should I do?

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To see metaphorical language in further operation, let us take a commonly described condition-- happiness.  In everyday speech, we might use the sentence "She was happy," to state that a particular character was experiencing joy and excitiement.  This sentence is of course accurate, but it is not interesting.  A more vivid way of saying the same thing is to use an image of action, such as "She jumped for joy"  (Roberts 140).

 

Roberts has a point here.  I strongly suggest reading the paragraph on page 141 in which he summarizes Keats' poem and shows why telling vs showing does not work.  It's rather (unintentionally) comical, but it shines a light on what our writing looks like when we tell instead of show.  Metaphors and similes are a good way to get past that habit. (It's also important to read through one's writing looking specifically for examples of telling instead of showing, because that trap is easy to fall into, and is often unknowiningly sprung)

That being said, while I understand the value of giving a tried-and-true example of an image of action, or, as Roberts later does, a popular simile ("She felt as if she had won the lottery"), we should also remember to stay away from cliches and other tired phrases.  Sometimes things are said so much, there meaning gets worn away.  Saying that the rain mercilessly pounded the roof like a red-faced man in a bar-fight is more effective than falling back on "it was raining cats and dogs."  I don't think Roberts is advocating cliche usage here, but in our search for similes and metaphors, we shouldn't abandon originality.  In fact, it's the originality of these techniques that make them powerful.

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3 Comments

Aja Hannah said:

I talked about cliches on someone else's blog, but yea. I still thought like she won the lottery was really cliche. Maybe Roberts has a chapter on that and it comes after we learn metaphors.

Brooke Kuehn said:

I think it is really important for writers to trust that their audience is intelligent enough to understand a character through his/her actions rather than being told word for word what the character is like. Also, we all know once an author releases a story, that story is going to mean something different to all who read it and the author's initial intention does not make it right. So if Mansfield thinks showing how Miss Brill looks forward to going to the bakery every day shows how she appreciates the small things and only wants to show the postives of this lady, well he would be wrong.(sorry run on lol) I have no clue what Mansfield thought of Miss Brill, but i know she could also be seen as pathetic. MAybe if an author thinks an action demonstrates a specific characteristic of a character, others may see that action in a different way and thus characterize the character differently. Therefore, showing allows the reader to use their own intelligence to understand the character. Sorry i really started to ramble in this comment.

I think using the cliches is fine in normal conversation, but in writing, one should strive for some originality. I think Roberts could have talked about showing instead of telling, and then said "but here's an even better way to show: originality in those metaphors and similes." That would have made the chapter more effective, though it was already rather informative.

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