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.

Revealing your background

They followed him, just a short distance behind, the monk continually glancing back at them over his shoulder.

The monastery buildings were now dark shapes against the setting sky. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace. (147)

This is an interesting paragraph, not because of the lack of dialogue and constant motion, but because of the method of how it draws your eyes. And thus reveals one of my weaknesses.

I love to focus on the movement of a character, so if we cut everything down to just the character, the me-version would read as follows:

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

It’s like it paints half a picture, just like the old television shows where Scooby Doo and Shaggy were painted in these bright pastels, always moving since they were in the foreground, while the background was dark and shadowy, never changing.

And, if I wanted to add the background, I would use the movement of the character to draw the reader’s attention to it.

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder, which prompted them to turn back and stare at the monastery buildings behind them, dark shapes against the setting sky. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

Of course, it gets very repetitious when I have to keep saying stared, looked, watched, peeked, glanced, gazed…their eyes followed… It’s much easier to do it just as the way Ishiguro did. When you expect a character to turn and look at something, don’t start with the character, immediately jump into the imagery instead. Just like Ishiguro.

There is an alternative, and I almost prefer this one…

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder, watching in case anyone left the monastery buildings behind them, in case anyone was following. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

I like this one better for 2 reasons: 1) the character is interacting with his environment and 2) there is some reflection on the action itself. Right when I mention”in case anyone was following,” you can see the characters are worried and careful. I think this draws a reader more into the story, although Ishiguro’s way can be described as a more artful way, since it really shines on the imagery.

But I guess it really depends on which effect you like the best.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

My apologies for non-fandom

I am not a fan of this book, which I know is something negative, so let me say 2 things positive: This book has conflict. This book has complexity. But as a writer always interested in the why and will behind characters, this book has left me wanting.

Featuring The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles. 1-10.

I have just finished the Nine Princes in Amber, and I find myself wanting to read, wanting to see what everyone else praises, but I am really reluctant to continue, which is saying something, although I do have my own reasons:

1. Why does everyone want to be king of Amber?

Seriously. Why does everyone want to be king? Every male sibling wants to be, and the most we hear as to why is “Amber was the greatest city which had ever existed or ever would exist. Amber had always been and always would be, and every other city, everywhere, every other city that existed was but a reflection of a shadow of some phase of Amber…I remember thee with love, city that I was born to rule….” (61). Cool. So, what happened to first born? Why is every other sibling trying to kill the other? Don’t siblings for the most part get along? And where is the father in this? This seems like a major conflict line, which I get as to why it’s not explained, but at least give me more reason for them to rule besides each sibling thinking, this is the best city ever. (Also, what happened to the girls wanting to be queens?)

2. Why can’t Corwin remember anything and why does this keep happening?

As he mentions, “I am suffering from amnesia. I don’t dig all this talk about Shadows. I don’t even remember much about Amber.” And apparently this has happened for some time. As he mentions later, “I had been without full memory since the reign of Elizabeth I” (60). Why only him? Why not his siblings? And why is this conflict never again addressed in this book. This is a serious issue. What if it happens again?

3. The battles bored me.

The details within this book are amazing. It’s clear this author is a fanatic for world creation, and you can tell with his devotion to the parallel universe theory, especially since one deviation from the original world leads to a billion other possibilities. But for the battles, it’s always “three hundred dead from eating poisonous native fruits, a thousand slain in a massive stampede of buffalo-like creatures, seventy-three gone…” (77). I skim read most of the battle, more so than usual, stopping at the beginning of every paragraph to see if the battle was over yet. Talking about the battle this way, although visual, made it too omniscient and led me to being disconnected from the character, and bored.

I want to like this book. Everyone online says that this is a classic fantasy. But I wonder if classic is meaning the start of fantasy, an original fantasy, not necessarily good fantasy? I’m not sure what to think. But I think I have to put this book down before I try any more. I simply don’t want to read it, and I don’t particularly like forcing myself to. But please, somebody convince me otherwise.

Zelazny, Roger. The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles. 1-10. New York, NY: Avon Books. Print.

Using the five senses

Right now I’m reading China Miéville, and I’ve heard a lot of good things, but I’m quickly learning that he has this beautiful language that leaves me staring off in the distance, wondering. And yet at the same time, I don’t have the attention for it. His story is stunted within me because, even though I think his language is beautiful and grand, I find it so superfluous at times that I have trouble paying attention.

For example:

The city reeked. But today was market day down in Aspic Hole, and the pungent slick of dung-smell and rot that rolled over New Crobuzon was, in these streets, for these hours, improved with paprika and fresh tomato, hot oil and fish and cinnamon, cured meat, banana and onion. (Miéville 7)

Do you smell it? I do. And the astonishing part was it took no more than listing some foods and some spices. It took nothing more than a list. I really like how when you read this sentence aloud (or in your head) and you can feel the rhythm that carries you along.

Then I read something like this:

It did not help that she was not an aficionado of Bonetown. The cross-bred architecture of that outlandish quarter confused her: a syncresis of industrialism and the gaudy domestic ostentation of the slightly rich, the peeling concrete of forgotten docklands and the stretched skins of shantytown tents. (Miéville 1)

I was not confused, but it felt abstract. I had trouble picturing the area. Single words stuck out with a definite meaning, others were smooshed into abstract definitions as my mind picked apart pieces that I recognized, struggling to comprehend ones I didn’t know. Maybe it’s because my vocabulary is not large enough. Maybe it was too abstract. Maybe the words themselves aren’t the best choice, not creating enough of an image, not detailed enough.

I just know that sometimes while I read, I am astonished. I love the language. And then other times, I struggle to read. Look at something once, twice. My eyes roaming the page because it’s too hard to keep going.

It’s definitely going to be something to push through. I can already tell Miéville puts a lot of effort into his writing, and there are a lot of other techniques that I really like about him. I’ll mentions some more as I go along.

Miéville, C. Perdido Street Station. London, Great Britain: Del Rey, 2000. Print.

 

Jargon of the People

“You’re firemountain-glass, Dama.” He says this very softly. “You’re a gift of the earth-but Father Earth hates us, never forget, and his gifts are neither free nor safe. If we pick you up, hone you to sharpness, treat you with the care and respect you deserve, then you become valuable. But if we just leave you lying about, you’ll cut to the bone the first person who blunders across you. Or worse-you’ll shatter, and hurt many.” (Jemisin 38)

I wanted to start with this quote because how evocative it is.

Firemountain-glass – this may be because I’ve had geology classes, but already I can picture volcanoes spewing lava, where the molten rock cools into the shiny black rock that breaks so neatly, each piece resembling a sharp piece of glass – and cuts like one too. It’s so easy to compare Dama to this, aligning her with this image so quickly.

“Father Earth hates us” – with this piece, we crystallize the religion of the people, and although I’ve never been a fan of religion, I’m a huge supporter of beliefs. If someone has an opinion, I’m interested. Even if I care squat about religion, I care that they care. I love strong opinions.

You’re “valuable” and dangerous – I love how this single quote immortalizes the love/hate relationship people have with Dama’s species. It didn’t take but a single sentence to show me, but it shows how Dama can conjure fear and respect. All it took was opposites to illustrate Jemisin’s point.

These are just a few of the reasons I really love this quote. But, I think the most important piece of the quote is how it summarizes the jargon of the people. This shows me their voice, how they speak. It’s casual; it’s stressful. I can feel the weight this guy places on this little girl’s shoulders.

It’s hard to solidify voice, but by reading enough pieces with it, you can develop an idea.

The questions you should be asking, is how do I know he’s male?

Why does he sound like a judge? A teacher?

Why do I feel like he’s judging me?

Jemisin, N.K. Fifth Season. New York, NY: Orbit, 2015. Print.

Personification

It is ordinary, as lands go. Mountains and plateaus and canyons and river deltas, the usual. Ordinary, except for its size and its dynamism. It moves a lot, this land. Like an old man lying restlessly abed it heaves and sighs, puckers and farts, yawns and swallows. Naturally this land’s people have named it the Stillness. It is a land of quiet and bitter irony. (Jemisin 2)

As I might have mentioned earlier, personification is the the giving of human qualities to inanimate objects, such is the case here with land. I really like how brutal and violent events like earth quakes/volcanoes are given an overly simplistic and comedic comparison, like to an old man in bed, especially with words like fart. With such a description, this paragraph gives a strong voice to the narrator, winding the reader in quickly on page 2.

It really helps make the land from something eternal, unchanging to something as grumpy, feeling as a human. I guess this wouldn’t be something everyone would use, but it does help add narration or depth to the setting.

Jemisin, N.K. Fifth Season. New York, NY: Orbit, 2015. Print.

 

Realism in words

In school today, I had some news-droppers – students who have a lot going on in their lives and have decided to sneak me a peek of their home lives right before Christmas, “holiday,” break. And it’s kind of depressing.

When you’re a teacher (or a teacher-in-training), you’re privy to all these kids lives, and so many of them have 504s (classroom/instruction accommodations) and so many of them have IEPS (classroom/instruction modifications). And then you realize that there’s stressors on top of that. I’ve had kids with concussions, who’ve lost parents, whose family has been in the hospital. And this doesn’t even begin to cover it.

And yet it hit me today, when we write, I feel like our characters don’t even begin to bridge this sense of realism or complexity. There are some books who come close, but I feel like it’s their plot or conflict, not necessarily their characters. But there’s always the exception.

I feel like Vorrh is better at this than most. When it describes its characters set of problems, I feel like their perspective has a certain realistic weight, and I think this combination of abstract and detailed writing style has helped Catling achieve this effect.  (Also has been one of the slowest, while still interesting, reads for me.)

It was the museum that changed everything and explained the volume of their lies…And there, at the centre, was his grandfather’s sacrificial spear. The one that had been handed down towards him for centuries, its wood impregnated with the sweat and prayers of his family. The one that he had never touched. He had walked into a trove house of all that was significant, all that was cherished – all that was stolen. (Catling 28)

This paragraph made me feel humbled and made me feel equivalent to what the Native Americans felt when we immigrated to this land, like we had stolen something of theirs, and yet being the typical ‘white, privileged’ person, reading this on the other side of the person touring these museums, it made me feel like this was a true statement. Everything in museums was in a sense stolen from these people lives. Put on display for others to gawk and gossip. It was an oddly humbling scene, making me feel somewhat guilty on behalf of others and sorry for the more man whose family has suffered because of it.

I think the best praise I can give Catling is I love and hate him for his style. He’ll have pieces like this that are inspiring, purely revolutionary for the kind of effect and intellectual stimulation it can affect on the reader, and yet I come across passages like this:

It grabbed at his memories and perverted them with elaborate motivations, succulent in their weirdness, making stupidity and pride fuck on the hallowed ground of his genius. (Catling 58)

Which confuse me, and literally mind-“f” me to no end. Seriously. No idea what’s going on in this passage, re-read it multiple times, and I feel like my brains been washed through a dryer on high speed every time I try to read it. Maybe that’s a wanted effect, but seriously…confused. I’d have to treat this like poetry and break it down to understand it.

Overall, I’d like to praise him and encourage everyone to give him a try. I wouldn’t recommend it yet to the average reader (only on page 75), as I’m still confused on why I’m reading it even though it’s a beautiful read. If anyone wants to study style, this would be a good book to pick up.

One last quote for the road!

No planes dared fly over it. Its unpredictable climate, dizzying abnormalities of compass, and impossibilities of landing made it a pilot’s and navigator’s nightmare. All its pathways turned into overgrowth, jungle, and ambush. The tribes that were rumored to live there were barely human-some said the anthropophagi still roamed. Creatures beyond home. Heads growing below their shoulders. Horrors. (Catling 34)

Summary: My impressions of Catling are he’s very exact, detail- and image-oriented. Every chapter/scene break starts the same way, orienting us in perspective. And every piece of information is very exact. There’s not a lot of nit and gritty first person perspectives, and when he does get in the gritty detail, it’s with TMI about sex, death, life, etc.

Catling, B. The Vorrh. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2015. Print.

Creating visuals

There’s a new movie that came out a while ago, called The Martian, and I know it’s gotten a huge rep, but every time I hear its new I can’t help but think of my new book: The Martian Chronicles.

It’s by Ray Bradbury, and within the first page, I was captivated.

“One minute it was Ohio winter, with the doors closed, windows locked, the panes blind with frost, icicles fringing every roof, children skiing on slopes, housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs along the icy streets. / And then a long wave of warmth crossed the small town…Rocket summer” (1).

There’s a certain voice that goes with each writer, and I would have to say that I align with Bradbury. His quick succinct images, each one trailing after another, creates this whole picture of a concept. Here winter. Then summer. It does a wonderful job of introducing the tone of the book, only needing a few pages.

Notice how he gives you the concept: Ohio winter.

Read his quick participial phrases, each one describing another feature of the Ohio winter.

Within a single sentence, he gives the reader virtual breaths with each comma, letting each part rest before he expands upon it. And then he does it again with its opposite: summer. He creates these contrasting opposites, which fill you with the feeling of change, of instantaneous reversal.

This is a good way to work with visuals.

Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1997. Print.

Reacting to “Lexicon”

I was really unsure when I started this book – the back cover sounded interesting, which I guess is a plus for the writers who wrote it – but when I started the book, you know nothing. Just like the character. This poor guy has been assaulted, kidnapped, in all senses of the word – tortured. I still have no idea who he is, what’s going on.

And it somewhat works. I’m still reading, mostly for curiosity at this point although I haven’t been entirely sated with the style. It’s been a lot of dry dialogue at this point, though the bathroom scene was slightly funny. I chuckled inside my head – mostly because people avoid bathrooms for scenes.

But I was truly impressed when I hit this paragraph:

A door opened. On the other side of it was a world of stunted color and muted sound, as if something was stuck in Wil’s ears, and eyes, and possibly brain. He shook his head to clear it, but the world grew dark and angry and would not stay upright. The world did not like to be shaken. He understood that now. He wouldn’t shake it again. He felt his feet sliding away from him on silent roller skates and reached for a wall for support. The wall cursed and dug its fingers into his arm, and was probably not a wall. It was probably a person. (Barry 8)

This is beautiful, mostly because the way it paints a picture – “stunted color and muted sound.” I love how it describes the feeling of being drugged, how he personifies the world with it “did not like to be shaken.” How he personified the wall because it was really a person. I felt like this was one of the most creative descriptions for being drugged, and I would love to see more personification for imagery.

I guess it’s some of my word/poetry love coming through writing.

Barry, Max. Lexicon. New York, NY: Penguin, 2013. Print.

Word Choice

Bird. 

When you read that, what did you imagine?

I thought of a cartoon bird, the kind you draw with an “m”.

If I say pigeon, what do you see?

Probably a pigeon. It’s a specific species of bird, so it’s hard to imagine anything but a pigeon, which is why word choice is crucial here. The mind constructs definitions through images, so every time you see a word, the time it takes you to read is the time you brain needs to see every word and interpret its meaning, which is why using highly visually-stimulating words is so crucial. Why word choice is such a big deal.

It also works with verbs.

She drew a dog.

She sketched a golden retriever.

Sketched to me is more descriptive in nature because it’s a specific type of drawing, when your hand makes light pencil marks to draw the outline of an object. Draw on the other hand is very bland. To draw something visualizes a drawing, a finished piece, rather than the action of the verb.

I would not suggest active-editing while writing, but going back through your work to look for better word choices where possible. If you can’t think something, try using a thesaurus, and if worst comes to worst, type in a description in google, like “word that means tiny and fragile”. A lot of times someone’s already posted it on a forum somewhere. (Microsoft Word has an automatic synonym feature – if you right click on a word, under synonym, it will give you a list of options.)