The Mad Missourian, Benjamin Wheeler returns!
A tome of terror and nightmare beyond your reckoning! IT IS THE NECRONOMICON AESTHETICA . Bound in the twisted and flayed flesh of critics and penned with the blood-tear ink of underpaid and overworked artists, this book will be the end-all and be-all of entertaining fiction analysis. This is not to be an explicit guide to a paint by numbers towards something poor, generic and, Lord forgive me for saying this, derivative. This is a guide to promoting excellence of story telling, to look at, disagree with or consult like a road map where you already know the way, but you want to make sure.
Read ON brave delver of the darkest literary arts!
Chapter 2: SUMMONING METAPHORICAL DEMONS, A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR THE NOVICE ARCANIST
You have retreated… ahem, VACATIONED to your summer castle. The hideous hunchback, William Twist, is only a little singed about the tendrils. Really, the local villagers don’t know how to take a joke. Just ONE monster goes on a rampage in the night, disturbing their grandmothers’ ashes and singing its ear-melting poetry and everyone tries to burn down your castle and all it contains. Were it not for the horrid bargains you made with the literary elder gods at such great costs, you’d be dead for sure. The journeys to PLUTON and ABADYS would have suited your complexion much better, but PLUTON is still on fire and the queen of ABADYS hasn’t forgiven you. You deserved it, but ninja goo doesn’t come out of the carpet. It’s like uh… You’ll get back to it. You’ve got time.
William Twist gnashes his teeth and throws your fetishes about like it’s um. Hm. OK. He screams and panics, fearing your wrath. The document, the document you slaved over, the document you inscribed into his very flesh, has burned away. The story your muse danced out move by move is gone. His ganglia are a quiver, and his eyes weep blood tears. You are unmoved. It can be rewritten. It’s really not that big of a deal. You remember everything like the uh. uh? Hm. “Back of my hand?” Offers William. “What, father of uh mmmerrrrrdogs? Yeah, Father of dogs.” “Nothing, master.” He mumbles and hunches off to lubricate himself for the next ordeal. There is no rest for the wicked, and novels don’t grow on trees. You have gods to satisfy and servants to manage, and ain’t nothing in the nine worlds for free.
You recreate everything in its perfect detail. The fight with the Dragon Knight. The dream sequences. The Ice Quean’s fortress. The romantic gondola chase scenes across Moonbeam City. The fancy, yet tragic, masquerade ball.
you are moved to that human emotion called sadness at the sacrifice of the Ice Quean. You reread the appropriate lines.
“Though the Blackest Night waned to a bare whisper of the power it once held, the Ice Quean, eyes flashing like the sun on the forest tops,” What? That can’t be right, she has green eyes but… it’s more… whatever. “raised her bejeweled hands to the heavens. With a voice like a thick book falling on a beloved and trusting pet,” Er “she poured her will onto the jewels with the last of her strength and power like a Gothic Cathedral’s Belltower…” ALRIGHT THAT’S IT.
ITUMBO OF NIGHT’s statue has adopted a pose of laughter when you blinked. Your muse weeps for shame. Your ghostly servants are slaying themselves anew to avoid having to listen to one more line. Even William Twist half-sneers at you, just under his unruly matte of hair.
You have fallen into a terrible trap. The pitfall of good writing. The treachery of metaphors! Oh that you had spilled more blood in ITUMBO OF NIGHT’s name! He could, perhaps, warned, you. If he had not been one of the oldest, and ficklest gods, that is.
-BEWARE OF DRAGON: This author will use Metaphor for an umbrella term for metaphors, similes and any other kind of action that uses language not directly connected to the action or characters (so on) but used to describe them. Similes will be used the most because they are the easiest to use on command, yet the same rules apply. Grinding minutiae arguments are everywhere! It is not needed to know the exact terms for anything. Leave that to the grand wizards who have wrested their knowledge from grander tomes. It does not fit the purpose of this grimoire to argue or needlessly define anything for page length. The Mad Missourian recommends never defining terms to exclusivity unless one is in debate with another. Better to use examples to convey meaning, since he is expounding on principles. Flexibility upholds points, while being inflexible may destroy them through misuse. See Chapter one. Suspension of disbelief doesn’t just apply to what you read for pleasure.-
ITUMBO OF NIGHT would have told you that the writing of poor metaphors are like nails on chalk. A thematically inappropriate metaphor is like slipping on ice where before one walked confidently. A metaphor that describes a thing accurately, but pointlessly, is like a dude sacrificed on an altar but just won’t die, no matter how man times you pull out his heart; it just keeps happening! The EMELECHT sun god will fail because ORAKU THE DEVOURER who lives on the moon catches up to him, not for lack of power, but for his obesity!
This might be an addendum of the first article, but it is so important that it is its brother. Nothing disrupts a reader’s flow, like a metaphor that won’t make sense. Now, not every metaphor is a winner and that is fine, but it’ll be remembered in the back of their head. Something will seem off even if they can’t properly call it out. Anyone can call out when the hero does something out of character, that’s quite obvious, or when something is just far too easy… but then they might not be able to properly call out the fact that you used the “I know it like the back of my hand” twenty times, by different characters. It would make sense if it was the smart character’s favorite phrase, but it isn’t. In fact, he doesn’t say it once. What a missed opportunity, as his hand is self-made with magic. There was even a side-quest to a volcano to make it.
CRITICAL OBSERVATION: Examples within this article are exaggerated for reader’s benefits. It would hurt the purpose of the article if the Mad Missourian is too subtle here, since it might not be understood. Metaphors are subtle knives. They can cut either way, and may escape the the notice of an editor, if poor. They may equally enhance the story to new heights used correctly. If ever in doubt, imagine it as literally as possible. Focus your mind on what the character looks like, and acts, then imagine the action you described earlier. Is it ridiculous or distracted from whatever level of gravitas you are attempting to give the story?
Saying a giant moves like a fairy is an interesting image, but not one a reader will envision correctly. It might even be too esoteric if there is an obscure reference there. Saying a giant moved like quicksilver does, even if they don’t really know what quicksilver is. The following descriptions, of the giant’s smoothness of motion and his accuracy in battle will do the work for you. The image of ‘moves like a fairy’ is much different. It might be accurate, but the task then falls to make his motions ‘like a fairy’. If he flutters around on his boulder-sized toes and leaps across the gorge like a ballerina, like a fairy is an accurate metaphor. But if you are describing a sword fight, or just the giant getting up or running, quicksilver, smooth, faster than you think and non-rigidly metallic, might be a better choice. One might actually choose something better than that kind of metaphor, by avoid similes specifically and using any of the other kinds of metaphors, including literal ones. Whatever the author chooses is as variable as a
“Like Quicksilver” is so often seen in literature that it can often be used without explanation, depending on how sparse the author is on description. “Struck like a snake” Or “You’re a monster!” are likewise used often. By all means use them, but shorthanding your metaphorical may lead to blandness, incorrect use (quicksilver for something that moves slow) or confusion depending on the errors that are brought to light. It isn’t that you used metaphors, it’s that the metaphors you used didn’t have meaning to them beyond the generic.
ADVICE FROM BEYOND THE VEIL: Do not be generic if you can help it.
Lets return to the example written earlier.
“Though the Blackest Night waned to a bare whisper of the power it once held, the Ice Quean, eyes flashing like the sun on the forest tops, raised her bejeweled hands to the heavens. With a voice like a thick book falling on a beloved and trusting pet, she poured her will onto the jewels with the last of her strength and power like a Gothic Cathedral’s Belltower…”
There are three similes here which don’t fit the image, are just too weird to understand, but might have meaning, and don’t have meaning.
Basically, the main part of the sentence says “Ice Quean had green, flashing eyes.” The thing is, images of growth, life and verdancy don’t match a character who has been associated with death, freezing and stasis. A better one, which fits both character and image, would be this “the Ice Quean, eyes flashing like the sun on the arctic-green sea foam waves…” works, as we keep the terrible brightness, ice and turbulence. It’s a great image. Probably needs to be pared down a little, but workable enough.
“With a voice like a thick book falling on a beloved and trusting pet,” Is just weird. It’s got a specific sound and image to it, but it doesn’t really translate easily. Less metaphor is more. “With a screech like an eagle” “With a cry of desperation and despair” “Screaming like a banshee” all have different meanings and implications, but all are useful. All Americans know what an eagle screech sounds like, because it punctuates every time we say “God Bless the USA”. A cry of desperation and despair puts drama into the character in a pitiable way. Banshee makes her more villainous and her actions violent.
“power like a Gothic Cathedral’s Belltower…” Doesn’t work and doesn’t have meaning. While the one above could be something that is heard but very very rarely, power like a Gothic Cathedral Belltower is both very specific and very not connected to anything. Did the power coalesce into the shape of a belltower before…? No, but yes it literally looks belltower, but flowing into the dude… This one just needs to change. “Power like the morning star” would suffice, as would anything that makes logical sense that it could be. Power doesn’t randomly become a Gothic belltower before whatever you use it for unless the system of magic is unnecessarily complicated and weird. In which case it can make sense, but your system of magic is already too inaccessible and weird for most readers.
LITERARY CRUCIBLE: Ultimately each work determines what metaphors (similes, etc) are appropriate for each purpose. While having a forest metaphor fits the color of the Ice Quean’s eyes, it does not fit her spirit, and the color of green arctic seafoam is different than the green of the forest. The meaning and character of the Ice Quean is amplified in the case of the second, and actually subtly clashes with her character in the first. Because it clashes, her character becomes slightly infirm compared to what it could be. Reinforcing her character traits is better (provided it’s not the only thing one does) than undermining them. Of course, characters should be more than their main metaphors, having a variety of related metaphors that don’t contradict one another is a joy to the reader, and keeps things fresh.
While it is not quite right to value or judge a work based on the qualities of their metaphors as the final word, it is certainly part of a series of literary slight of hands to determine whether you have a good magician or a slightly interesting clown. You can still be entertained with either, but don’t think that the birthday clown can carry an auditorium like a good magician can. Of course, the metaphor breaks down when you remember clowns were actually a valued and skillful profession ruined by the same fear they spread to every land they visited. Also all the good ones died without heirs to their will. Sigh. We could be elbows deep in clowns but for that.
Metaphors and its cousins are subtle, excellent ways to add all the nuance you could shake a stick at, but doing them wrong only combines with any problems that are already within your work. Do them often, do them right, Don’t get too esoteric, the poor unenlightened masses might not like it and try to burn the castle down.
The richness and smoothness of the work depends on every single part of it, from the plotting to the actual craft, working with each other in harmony. The dark art is like listening to music, a missed note may be forgiven, but not entire verses.
Next Monday, a new chapter: EDITING THE DARK TOMES, DON’T DO IT… BUT DO IT