Nugget: Metaphors are golden

You know when you spend more than a few pages on a metaphor that you really like it.

Like, I’m wondering at this point if Neal Stephenson was an old miner, or if he had been one of those tourists at some point, where he decided to try gold mining with a little metal pan and a bucket of dirt, only succeeding in getting those tiny flakes of gold dust. (You know what I mean if you’ve tried it.)

But Stephenson loves gold. Almost as much as he likes metaphors, and he’s really good at it. He spends a good portion of this chapter-set in the Newtowne, Massachusetts Bay Colony on October 12, 1713-talking about his gold metaphor. Exactly four pages of it. Which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it gets hilarious when every flashback to a memory begins with

Nugget:

But, here’s how his series of memories starts. Or, at least part of it. 

In years since he has rarely gone back to those old memories. As he does now, in the tavern near Harvard College, he’s startled to find that the muddy whirl has been swept away. The mental pan has been churning for fifty years, sorting the dirt and sand to the periphery and throwing it off. Most of the memories are simply gone. All that remain are a few wee nuggets. It’s not plain to Daniel why these impressions have stayed, while others, which seemed as or more important to him at the time they happened, have gone away. But if the gold-panning similitude is faithful, it means that these memories matter more than the ones that have flown. For gold stays in the pan’s center because of its density; it has more matter (whatever that means) in a given extent than anything else. (47-48)

I know that was a rather long block quote, but I really love it because of the metaphor he aligns with his memory. A person is prone to forget, and it is similar to gold, where only the worthy pieces (the ones with more weight) are left behind, where everything else is thrown away, back into the sand and water.

It makes me wonder how much time he spent on this metaphor. Whether he knew he wanted one here; if he initially wrote this in; or if he went back and changed this after he had come up with the idea of gold.

Either way, he was happy with it, because he used his “Nuggets” to begin each memory in order to literally create a quick history for Daniel for information we might need to understand him. Literally a sentence or two to create a brief image that can help us understand his beginnings.

And before I go, there’s one more metaphor I want to show you that I really liked. Again, also related to memories.

The conversation might not have gone precisely this way. Enoch had the same way with his memories as a ship’s master with his rigging-a compulsion to tighten what was slack, mend what was frayed, caulk what leaked, and stow, or throw overboard, what was to no purpose. So the conversation with Clarke might have wandered into quite a few more blind alleys than he remembered. (33)

So for my last question to you, how do you come up with metaphors like these? Or, what are your favorites?

Happy reading!

Stephenson, Neal. Quicksilver. New York, NY: William Morrow, 2003.

Snyder’s Strengths

Maris Snyder is who I would describe as a new adult author with a quick-writing style. I’ve always been a fan of her because of how quick her books move, always fast-paced action, her writing always direct and to the point. And this book is no different.

Shadow Study is meant to continue Yelena’s and Valek’s plot line—the Poison Study series, and while I wonder if it’s one of the last, it definitely leaves the series open enough to continue. (I won’t spoil the ending.)

But in the manner of reflection, there’s a few high points I want to focus on.

1. Using nicknames to denote character familiarity

Onoro had disappeared into the forest. probably climbing a tree. And then he wondered when he’d stopped thinking of her as Little Miss Assassin. (238)

I love how her characters can be humorous and annoying. She does annoying so well, which makes me wonder about her personality, ha. But what I particularly like about this section, is how she shows Janco calling Onoro nicknames, slowly fading it out until you realize, when did he stop? It forces you to go back and look.

2. Using cliffhangers to keep you reading

I hesitated. A dagger slammed into the ground near me.

“Let go or my next knife will not miss.”

<end of chapter> (249)

This is how almost every one of her chapters end—with a huge cliffhanger. It definitely pushes you to keep reading, always advancing the tension with what happens next? It definitely gets old after a while, especially if you make it to obvious. I know there was cringe-worthy cliffhanger, ending with, ‘when he took off his mask, she gasped. She never could’ve guessed it was end.’ Or, something along those lines. Either way, withholding his name, kinda mean for the reader.

3. Using flashbacks to elaborate the relationships between characters

“…Get me the name of the patron and I won’t go after the assassin.”

“And why would I do that?”

Time for the ace. “because you owe me a favor and I’m collecting.” (256)

What I really liked this is that throughout the book, I was questioning why Valek kept having flashbacks. It was a smooth blending in and out, to the point where I had to go back and reread the transition, but I kept wondering is, why now? It’s interesting and all, but what’s the point? Until…I got to scenes like these, where she would reference the past. And here is where I was grateful for the flashbacks. I felt like such a insider after I witnessed them.

4. Using multiple perspectives to show where readers hoard knowledge

Kiki slowed as a wagon appeared, traveling toward them. Odd. (374)

In the previous chapter, we saw Yelena strapped to the wagon, after she had been kidnapped, so seeing her boyfriend riding her horse, her horse figuring out Yelena was there, it was quite mind-blowing as a reader. It makes you want to stand in your seat, waving your arms, pointing the wagon and saying, Go save her you nincompoop! Too bad he never figured it out…Either way! It was a fun scene. Made you feel like you had insider’s knowledge.

Synder, M. V. Shadow Study. Don Mills, Canada: MIRA Books, 2015. Print.

Flashbacks, like a story within a story

I don’t believe I’ve talked too much about flashbacks, mainly because most stories I’ve read traveled progressively forward. If there’s back story we need, then we start with that. Maybe add a hint or two through a sentence or paragraph. Even most of the stories I write are linear, which sounds awfully boring now that I think about it. But it can be quite useful when well done.

While I was reading The Library at Mount Char, I got a flashback within the first chapter, which does a great job at outlining some of the characters and their history, including their relationships with each other, and this is of great importance, since the book is about a battle between the siblings – although not all of them know that at this point in time.

It starts with a single sentence, “Carolyn and the rest were not born librarians” (Hawkins 5). A single fact.

It continued with a little back story to set the scene: “But  one summer day when Carolyn was about eight, Father’s enemies moved against him. Father survived, as did Carolyn and a handful of other children. Their parents did not.” (5)

Readers get a short scene in the midst of the summary, to help paint the picture of Father’s control, the children’s catalogues: “But Margaret’s tears were streaked with blood, and when Father pulled her back into the stacks she wet herself” (6), before it launches into the main meat of the flashback with Carolyn and her deer, learning their language.

This flashback was critical for the story. By this point, readers might realize that the whole story starts in the meat of the conflict, so Father has already been removed from the library, either missing or dead. This flashback helps iterate what kind of father he was, to illustrate who may want him dead – either his enemies or the children he forced to suffer. It helps create a bit of a mystery – who went after Father?

I think this is a good way to show how/when to use a flashback – to help flush out history between characters in order to help create backstory, to help create a mystery around the conflict. I really wanted to do this with one of my books, and I definitely think I will have to try something like this. When done well, I can tell it immediately adds a sense of depth to the novel.

FYI: Flashback ended with this: “Carolyn rose and stood alone in the dark, both in that moment and ever after” (9).

I like the visual ending, especially how it tries to tie that moment’s feeling to her current feelings through the metaphor of darkness. Puts a lot in that one sentence.

Hawkins, Scott. The Library at Mount Char. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 2015. Print.