Monday, 24 May 2010

Editing among the wildlife

Friday it was ducklings in the pond, Saturday it was a hawk scattering the swifts, on Sunday came a tortoise. The duckling is still happy on our neighbour’s pond, and Kevin soon reclaimed his tortoise. These summer days are certainly bringing wildlife to our garden.
Editing of the wip goes on. One of the things I’m looking at is imagery, and I’m spending quite a lot of time on metaphor because I think a good one works wonders. Similes are easier; we all compare things almost everytime we speak, but metaphors, good ones, are harder. The trick is to totally substitute one image for another. But the imagery has to work, on several levels, and a false metaphor does more harm than good, just as too many metaphors begin to annoy the reader. Well, this reader at least.

A metaphor has to work on several levels. I try hard to avoid the clich├ęd metaphor. The ones like stopped dead in his tracks, for instance, or Step out of the frying pan into the fire. We all know those. Perhaps the rule should be: if you can’t think up an original metaphor, leave them alone.
They can be simple, as in I’m melting in the heat.
Or they can be complex and go on over one or more sentences: my imagination is a three-hundred-ring circus. Currently I was in ring two hundred and ninety-nine, with elephants dancing and clowns cartwheeling and tigers leaping through rings of fire. The time had come to step back, leave the main tent, go buy some popcorn and a Coke, bliss out, cool down. (Dean Koontz)

Sometimes the problem is that the metaphor is inappropriate. It brings up an image that doesn’t quite go with the subject under discussion, the character or the historical setting.
People also talk of mixed metaphors, and the term usually refers to short metaphors placed too close together. Because of the closeness, the images clash, and at the very least, do not compliment each other. Shakespeare got away with it, possibly because neither half of the sentence is hackneyed, when he wrote Or take arms against a sea of troubles, but I doubt you’d let this one pass by without a snigger: a virgin field pregnant with possibilities. And this one, I think you’ll agree, lacks a certain style: the President has backed him to the hilt every time the chips are down.

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