Oh metaphor, how you elude me. I hear you mentioned in the same breath as praise for the great essayists, storytellers, and poets here at my MFA residency with the Vermont College of Fine Arts, but you are shifting smoke to me, impossible to grasp wisps rising out of the creative sparks of others’ literary genius.
See what I did there? Of course you do. I attempted to make use of metaphor in my prose, and it came across about as well as the classic story opening, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Yes, I remember 7th grade English class, where I learned about similes and metaphors, and made sure on my quiz to circle the similes when they used “like” or “as.” But they’re taking the use of metaphor a bit deeper here at VCFA.
Metaphor adds layers of nuance and power to prose, I’m told. It allows the writer to tie together disparate elements of the story, and to emphasize the importance of some elements over others. Particularly when extended across a work, it can signify the “aboutness” of that piece to the reader.
I get that. But I haven’t figured out how to “do” that in my prose. Not yet, anyway.
I attended a lecture by a graduating student, Giovanna Marcus, who I was fortunate enough to be in workshop with last semester. As a result, I know she’s a talented and skilled writer. And she demonstrated in her lecture a good understanding of extended metaphor.
What I wrote above was conveyed in her lecture, along with the straightforward information that an extended metaphor can illuminate both character and plot. She advised morphing and twisting the metaphor both to keep it fresh and to maximize its effectiveness. She cautioned repetition of a metaphor for repetition’s sake can annoy the reader.
For those who would welcome good examples of extended metaphor, she suggested three works by Bernard Cooper: Maps to Anywhere (metaphor: houses), Truth Serum (water), and The Bill from My Father (a polyester jumpsuit; how awesome is that!).
Got it, Gio. Now it’s a matter of actually applying it to my writing.
I will have to try, as my advisor this coming semester obsesses over extended metaphor. One piece of good news for me is that I also have her as a workshop leader this residency, and she has already suggested a possible extended metaphor for my travel memoir in progress. It’s brilliant, and so seemingly obvious once she pointed it out. You could hear the gasps of recognition of this fact in workshop when she mentioned it.
Is metaphor part of your writer toolbox? Have you successfully extended one across a longer work of prose or poetry?