Putting it Together

We’ve practiced working with descriptive image detail and the figurative language of simile and metaphor. We’ve played with writing in third person. Let’s put it together.

For your prop, find a photo of yourself at a younger age.

One way to approach this exercise is to begin by making a list of nouns naming the facial features. i.e., hair, face, nose, eyes, ears, chin, cheeks, jaw, forehead, neck, lips, skin, etc.

Beside each noun, write an adjective or two that describe the noun. i.e., for jaw, a few adjectives could be strong, weak, tense or what?; for lips–full, pouting, stern, etc.

Then, look for something that really is a “dissonant detail”–something that jumps out and makes you take notice.  Is your smile crooked, your front tooth chipped, are you frowning, squinting into the sun, anything? What is your demeanor or countenance? How old are you?  What is your hairstyle, style of dress?

Next, using the third person perspective, write a paragraph incorporating the nouns, adjectives and the dissonant detail(s) as you fully describe yourself in the photo. Dare to further expand on a few of the nouns using the imagery of  original simile or metaphor in your word illustration of the photo. i.e., his jaw was as determined as a base runner; her eyes were misty like that indeterminate rainy April day.

Finally, what is something you might have said or wanted to say…give yourself one spoken line.

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Writing Tip:
If  you are writing a memoir, looking at old photos and re-collecting in this way can help you to connect with yourself or someone else in another time and place. 

Autumn Harvest

appleCycles and seasons come and go.  We are deeply connected to nature’s rhythms whether or not we give them conscious attention.  No matter where you live or what your age, you have an experience of Autumn.  In the northern hemisphere, we have entered the Autumn of the year while the southern hemisphere is in the flush of Spring.  As writers, we are aware of the metaphorical aspect of any season.

For yourself, consider what the harvest time means to you personally.  Living in the mountains, I’ve come to know the harvest intimately.  The land I live on has old fruit trees.  The first trees to fruit in early summer are the cherry trees.  These are followed by the pear trees.  Finally, in September and October, the apple trees are ready to be gleaned. If the apple crop is hefty, you will find me in the yard picking apples or in the kitchen processing them.  Frequently, there is an abundance of fruit to be shared with friends.

I often hear this comment from young and old alike, “How fast time is going!” Has it always been this way?

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Thomas Cleary translated a book of verses written by Wen-siang, a lone refugee, Buddhist poet, pacifist and feminist who lived in the 13th century during the time of the Genghis Khan Mongol raids.  The book is titled Sleepless Nights…Verses for the Wakeful.  I’ve excerpted the following poem:

My Sixtieth Year
by Wen-Siang (translated by Thomas Cleary)

Already sixty,
so much I’ve been through.
Wealth and rank
are like floating clouds;
changing and disappearing,
unworthy of regard.

My body’s like a pine

on a winter ridge,
standing alone
through the cold.

My mind is like the water

in an ancient well,
thoroughly unruffled
all the way to the depths.

My path
is the ancient way,
especially hard
in the present day.
Not easily discerned
are right and wrong;
I sigh and sigh,
sigh and sigh.

WRITING PROMPT:
Wen Siang uses simile in the first three verses (the bolded lines) to illustrate his state of being in his sixtieth year; it seems that he is taking stock.  In the fourth verse, he makes the direct comparison (metaphor) in the line “My path is the ancient way.” I invite you to use Wen-siang’s poem as a copycat poem.  That is borrow the form and supply your own content.  You can begin your poem with your current age.  For each verse, alternate the leading lines…”My body’s like…My mind is like…and My path is…”

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Whatever the season, whichever hemisphere, savor your time on planet earth.

Meteors? I Meant Metaphors

Creativity is a powerful engine.  Its desire is to propel your writing or artful pursuit forward.  Creativity is like an early summer strawberry–you crave its sweetness.

Within this brief paragraph are three examples of creative writing tools:

Creativity is a powerful engine                Metaphor

Its desire                                                  Personification

Like an early summer strawberry            Simile

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In the previous blog, I introduced simile. Today’s blog is about metaphor which is described as a direct comparison (without the words like, as or as if). I think of simile as having a sort of buffer as it makes the comparison. Whereas metaphor is direct.  It doesn’t hem and haw.  It tells it as it sees it.

With simile, My lover’s eyes are blue like the sky.  Change this to a metaphor and My lover’s eyes are the blue sky. Do you get a sense of the difference with this comparison?  In the first comparison, the simile, I am comparing only the color.  In the direct comparison using metaphor–his blue eyes and the blue sky are one and the same! I can get lost in this vastness.

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Poet and author, Edward Hirsch believes that “there is a radical difference (or should be) between saying that A is the same as B and saying that A is like B.”  He says that “Metaphor works by condensation and compression.”

For me, metaphor is bold! It makes daring statements! Ones that I probably won’t question because they come across with such authority.

WRITING PROMPT:
If you don’t feel you have a grasp of metaphor, you can certainly google it to get more examples. That said, look at the similes you wrote the other day based upon a feeling. Consider what those similes would sound like if you dropped the words like, as or as if. Do they work as metaphors?  Try it out. Could you write bolder comparisons to make your metaphors even stronger?  Go for it.

 

 

Smile…It’s Simile Time

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We’ve talked about image detail, right?  It is supported by well-chosen adjectives…ones that have sensory appeal.  Image detail, character description and action in a story are also enhanced through the effective use of simile and/or metaphor.  Let’s begin with simile.

Simile is an effective creative writing tool falling under the general heading of Figurative Language or Imagery.  According to author/poet, Frances Mayes, from her book The Discovery of Poetry, “A figurative image establishes connections between things we normally would not associate.”  It is “an explicit equation…using the words like, as, as if” to make comparisons. For example, we’ve all heard the similes “hungry as a horse,” or “timid as a mouse.” These are similes and they are also clichés. Clichés are oft-repeated, overused similes. You want to avoid clichés. Inventing original and effective similes is a fun art.

WRITING PROMPT:
What is a predominant feeling for you today?  If nothing comes to mind, borrow one from your experience…like being in love, or feeling angry or happy, tired or weepy.

Practice writing at least half a page of original similes emanating from your feeling. If your feeling is anger–“she was as angry as a disturbed hornet’s nest”. If the feeling is love, “she was in love like a bear with her fist in a honey pot.” Don’t forget to include the words like or as or as if in your simile.

Work with only one feeling…and that way you can get fully into the swing of both your feeling and writing your similes.  One day, I was feeling very angry and I wrote a full page of similes expressing what my anger felt like.  By the time I got to the bottom of the page, I was laughing.  I felt very clever having come up with so many original similes and I shifted the energy of anger in a creative way.

See what happens for you as you try this one out.
Have fun!

Apricots

A few days ago, while selecting apricots from the fruit bin at the local health food store, I had a sudden flashback…nine ragamuffin kids eager for a box of bruised apricots from Uncle Oliver’s garden in Santa Clara–a place of summer sun and outdoor sprinklers. Not for us.  Living in San Francisco, we had summer fog, jackets and scarves and work to be done.

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At some point, childhood becomes a distant landscape.  While there was a dearth of love, there were also heroes.  Sometimes the mind chooses one, a bright spot on the horizon, and hinges there in private gratitude.

On a rare occasion, Uncle Oliver would appear at our front door.  His entry was sunshine walking into the house as he placed a small cardboard box of apricots on the dinette table. Uncle Oliver, a round name, a round face, head thrown back and round-syllabled laughter tossed like a ball into our cluttered living room.  A pleasing sound to our laughter-starved ears.  Did one need permission to laugh so fully, so boldly? Laughing involved his whole face, his whole vibrating body.  Musical.  Tears squeezed out the corners of his laugh-slit eyes.  His laughter affected us, if only for the moment.  A laugh that one could trust and believe in.  His voice was musical too, as if each syllable was a note played on a piano, rising and falling with a quality of comfort like soft flannel, enveloping.

OliverEach apricot radiated a sweetness that came from some foreign land where climates were warm enough to grow apricot trees–Santa Clara? Those apricots, by the time we got to the bottom of the box, were bruised and wormy, but their sweetness and Oliver, himself, are what pervade the memory.

WRITING PROMPT:  As you go about your business today, be open to a flashback moment,  a positive experience that is triggered by something in the present. Describe everything you possibly can about where memory sends you.  Once you’ve written this, go back and introduce some comparisons to enhance your writing.

WRITING TIP:  Notice the comparisons in my piece above…”comparing childhood to a distant landscape, laughter tossed like a ball, comfort like flannel, sunshine walking in the front door”…these are some examples of how to include comparison in your writing.

Be pleased with yourself.

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