Friday, September 4, 2009

Similies, Metaphors, and Analogies

Do you ever get confused between similies, metaphors and analogies? I do. I'm forever saying something is a metaphor when actually it is a simile. So, let's talk about these sometimes confusing elements of writing.

A simile is a kind of comparison between two objects or, often, between a human ( character) and an object. They always use the words "like" or "as." In my novel about AJ, when she first met Lisa, she described her as being "as tall and thin as a popsicle stick." Actually, that was a pretty good simile, even if I do say so myself! It immediately brings to mind a popsicle...and what kid doesn't like them? So the reader already has a good idea of what Lisa looks like, and it doesn't matter too much what her eye and hair color are. So, already I'm ahead of the game, because I don't have to spend a lot of descriptive verbage on Lisa's appearance.

The thing is, a lot of times when we write, we get lazy or we get so engrossed in what we are saying that we resort to the first simile that comes to mind. Very often, that simile has become so overused that it is now considered a cliche, which we most definitely don't want to use. Remember this line, which I think is from a famous poem ( although I don't remember which one): My love is like a red, red rose. Others are: She's fat as a pig; he's dumber than a stump; he's as slow as molasses in January. These are very common similies, and probably ones we all think of, or even use in conversation, all the time. But we don't want to use them in writing, especially for kids. When you decide to use a simile, be creative, make up your own and make sure that your reader will have an image come to mind that s/he can relate to.

Then there is the metaphor. Okay, this is another kind of comparison, but one in which we say the person ( or object) is something that it obviously isn't. How about this: "Her eyes were sapphires in her pale face." Well, now we know that this person does not have "sapphires" for eyes. "That boy is a clumsy ox." No, he may be clumsy, but he is not an ox. Once again, when a metaphor doesn't envoke an understandable image in the reader's mind, it shouldn't be used. Like many similies, metaphors that we are the most familiar with have become cliches, and editors frown upon them. The most important thing to remember, however, is that younger children probably don't have enough mental acuity to really understand them.

Finally, there is the analogy. An analogy is a comparison between two things which are actually entirely different. It is the most difficult to write in such a way that children will understand it, so mostly, we shouldn't ! Analogies can be expressed in different ways, too. One example is: Grass is to green as the sky is to blue. Hmm...would a kid understand this? Another way: The sunrise is like a beautifully wrapped birthday present. It's pretty to look at, but beyond that is something brand new. Okay, maybe you can write a better analogy, and one that kids can relate to. As for me, I think I'll stick to a few similies and metaphors!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Historical Fiction...or...?

About 2 1/2 years ago, I started writing an historical fiction novel concerning the Underground Railroad and the Civil War. I had spent about a year on the research, including a barge trip down the Ohi0 and Mississippi Rivers to visit some of the sites of both the Civil War and the Underground Railroad. I sent what I had written, as well as the synopsis for the entire book, to my ICL instructor for my last assignment. But when I began the ICL advanced novel course, my new instructor wanted me to write a more contemporary novel, which is the one just completed. Consequently, the historical novel has been on the back burner until now.

In the meantime, I sent the first few chapters to my critique group. One of the women in the group refused to read it, and emailed me that she was leaving the group. Her reason? She felt that because the book concerns slaves and slavery in the South, that she could not read it because she resented the "implication" that plantation owners of that era mistreated their slaves. She also said that she believed that such things should not continue to be written; that if they were not, people would forget about slavery, and would accept the fact that Southerners were good, loving and gentle people.

Well, I won't go into any part of that. We all know how slaves were treated and the despicable fact that some human beings thought it perfectly all right to own other human beings.

My question is: should there even be a genre such as 'historical fiction?' What about history in general? Are there parts of our history, US and World, both, that should never again be written about? Should we never allow our children, grandchildren and succeeding generations learn about slavery, about the fearsome battles for the rights of women to vote, for Civil Rights, about the horrors of Hitler, the Nazi Regime, and the Holocaust?

How do we learn from our past mistakes? How can we assure that these same evils against the human spirit never arise again with future generations, if we don't write about them? What about teaching them in our schools? Should that be forbidden, too?

I never understood this woman's attitude, but I was glad that she chose to leave the group. Personally, I would never refuse to read someone's manuscript simply because I disagreed with the topic they were writing about. I probably would put in a few personal remarks about why I didn't like it, but at least I would read it. And I hope that I would be honest enough to critique it objectively, for the content and how it was written, rather than for the subject matter.

I love history, and I love writing historical fiction. I just wish it didn't take so long to do the research for the many topics I would like to write about. But is this something we should think seriously about? Do we really need to take a second look at the retelling of history, whether it be as fictionalized or as simply fact?

My opinion? I don't think so. Our history is an indelible part of our lives; it is as necessary to learn about it and to understand it as it is to keep current with our world today. Without yesterday, there is no today, and without today, there is no tomorrow. We need to teach our upcoming generations that all of our history is a vital part of who we, as a nation, are, and that they must know what happened yesterday in order not to repeat it tomorrow.

This is what I think. How do you feel?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What Is Happiness?

Someone on one of my literary boards posted the question, what makes you happy? That got me to thinking: what does make me happy?

There are the usual things, like my husband, my children and my grandchildren, but there are other, more subtle, things, too. My Corgi, Dylan, for example. He is the most loving puppy we've ever had, and by far the smartest of all our smart dogs. He figures things out for himself, and generally stays one step ahead of us. What makes me happy about him, though, is when he sits in front of me and "talks." Little sounds low in his throat that mean, 'can I sit in your lap?' or 'will you take me out for a walk?' It makes me happy to see how others respond to him, and how they will say "Oh what a well-behaved puppy he is."

It makes me happy to see the myriad of hummingbirds who flock to the feeders in front of my study window, and who fight each other to see who is going to feed first. One, in particular, always has to have the same feeder tube, no matter who else is there. Their brilliance is breathtaking, and it is amazing that their tiny bodies, which appear so fragile, have the strength to take them hundreds of miles in migration.

I live on the Central Coast of California, and being close to the ocean means we have breathtaking sunsets. It makes me happy to see the many colors of the sky as the sun begins its journey to a different part of the world. It makes me laugh to point out to my husband the pink clouds that are so often in our sky, because he used to say there was no such thing as a 'pink cloud!'

I love the rain, and it makes me happy to feel the cool gentleness of rain upon my face. I rode many miles in the rain when we had our ranch, and although my horses weren't always so happy about it, it was always one of the highlights of the season for me.

It makes me happy to pick up my brush and watch the paint come to life on my canvas as a seascape, a landscape, or one of the many animals of the African woodlands that I love so dearly.

It makes me happy to write: to see an image in my head become a character as real to me as one of my children; to be able to create a life, a family, friends and enemies for that character; and to be able to put that character into a sometimes untenable situation and yet find totally believable ways for her to extract herself, and grow emotionally and spiritually in the process.

These are some of the things that make me happy. What are yours?