Changing Up Metaphors

In the vein of my posts the last two days, I’d like to play a little more with description and imagery.

Some people tend to get hung up on a certain variety of metaphor. The most common, I think, is the tendency for women in romance novels to be compared to food, but that’s far and away not the only one, just the most irritating.

And some of the fun can be finding new themes for what characters can be compared to. I once designed a character who envisioned everyone and everything in terms of instruments and musical styles: she described her mentor as rather like “A slow piece on koto, short movements and long pauses as the string’s vibrations die down” and someone she had to deal with once—a rather compensatory fellow, let’s put at that way—as “One trumpet overblowing a fanfare”. The fun thing about that is that there are multiple places where you can build a comparison—the timbre of the instruments, the balance of the group if you’re comparing them to a group piece and not an individual, the tempo and key of the piece itself either way.

What about birds? There’s a lot of variety there, and plenty of points of comparison. Birdcalls and people’s voices, for instance. Plumage and general appearance, as well, or size and, well, size, or general diet and habits of the bird and general habits of the person. Or what about plants? You’ve got foliage and blossoms, rate of growth, wind resistance, usefulness, natural defenses, you name it!

Or we can go with weather. Between levels of wind, levels of cloud, levels of sun, levels of precipitation, general fickleness, and other such features, you could fill a meeting hall with people described in terms of different weather patterns.

For the more technologically advanced setting, how about machines? How many apt descriptions can you get out of computers alone?

If you’re looking for a challenge, you can dive into a character’s mind and go for something a little more meta-world: referencing legends, plays, or other bodies of common culture. Imagine, for instance, someone viewing most of the people he meets in terms of the characters in the plays they attend every week, or always drawing parallels between the legends she grew up on and the situations she sees or experiences.

Whether you plan on actively trying to embrace the alternate metaphors or not, I suggest you look through your descriptions. Is there a particular metaphor set you seem to cling to most often? If so, you might want to look at it more closely, see if you can change it up a little. Theme stagnation isn’t much fun; while a character always using the same theme makes sense, on a writer it looks a bit more sloppy.

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