I’ve been thinking about this some more. Last time around I mentioned two traits of good writing: detail and rhythm and then I got a little philosophical. Detail entails being descriptive and one of the most effective ways to be descriptive is by using similes and metaphors. Should those be plural?
Simile & Metaphor
Do you remember this from your English classes? They’re essentially the same except that when you use similes you use either “like” or “as”.
My new winter coat is fly but it’s not really that cold out so I was sweating like a stuck pig in July.
On the train this morning I saw a woman who was as big as a house.
Metaphors are more direct and I think they’re a little more artsy. More poetic.
Karl Rove is a stink blossom, a flower that flourishes surrounded by excrement. (That was one of his affectionate nicknames, by the way. I didn’t make that up.)
I don’t know why there’s a distinction between similes and metaphors. They seem like the same thing to me, but what can you do. Rappers use similes all the time. All the time. Some of them use metaphors, too. Check out Lil’ Wayne. He must have been in G&T English. The third line there has a metaphor and a simile. Is the first line a simile? Does “than” make it a simile?
I’m a Young Money Millie in aire, tougher than Nigerian hair,
My criteria compared to your career just isnt fair,
I’m a venereal disease like a menstrual bleed…
Threw the pencil and leak on the sheet of the tablet in my mind
Um. Venereal di… nevermind. Inspired, as always. I don’t know if I can top Lil Wayne’s literary prowess. Menstrual bleed? Anyway, let me try to focus here. Similes and metaphors provide new and unconventional ways to get your point across. For example, I used to think that all of that wine tasting language was just snooty bull. Like:
Hmmm, yes. A note of tobacco with a bacon-y ostinato. A tad heady with turpentine overtones and a frisky finish.
Hehe. Frisky. But wine language is bizarre for a reason. It sounds pretentious when you first hear it . Thing is, our language is woefully inadequate for describing smells and tastes, which is strange to me because our sense of smell has a profound relation with memory and experience. What would you say if I asked you to describe the difference between the taste of an orange and a tangerine? And how would you explain it to me if I’d never tasted an orange before?
You’d have to find some way to convey the light, refreshing, citrus experience and texture.
Biting into wedges of orange is like tasting a month’s worth of perfect summer days. It explodes with sweetness and a fragrant tartness. Orange is Lemon’s happy, upbeat easygoing cousin with an infectious smile. Tangerine is Orange’s cute younger sister who likes to wear her mother’s perfume.
Man, that’s hard. I can’t really get it. Eh, I tried. Anyone else want to take a shot? We’ll have an impromptu creative writing session. To properly describe a taste you have to capture the smell, how long the taste lasts and how long each separate taste lasts.
Try a Nantucket Nectar Orange Mango drink some time. You’ll notice how the orange taste comes first and then the mango eases in — a bright burst followed by a round slow glow. How long does the taste last? Aftertaste? Thick, thin, bright, dark, heavy, light? And if you really pay attention while you’re tasting something you’ll feel parts of your tongue lighting up like a pinball machine and each food or drink orchestrates its own gustatory symphonic light show in your mouth. It’s like there’s a party in your mouth and you’re the guest of honor.
You really have to be in a relaxed, mindful state to truly appreciate those kinds of things, though. It’s almost a form of meditation. What does that have to do with writing?
Well, imagine the concentration it takes to experience and describe a good wine. I know a few people who have taken classes in order to have a vocabulary to discuss it. And of course, by observing and naming elemental flavors, they have a greater appreciation for wine and food of all types.
Now, imagine having that same appreciation for the body language of the people around you. Or the tone of their voice. Like those times when someone says something that seems to contradict the expression on their face and they see that you saw it and then they have to explain. “No, Chinese is fine. No, it is. Really. I had Chinese last night, though.”
The way dogs bark, arf, woof, roof, mewl, and whine in an attempt to communicate with us. And we can’t distinguish between “Play with me now?” and “Wake up. There’s a tyrannosaurus rex in the back yard”.
Or when somebody hugs you and the hug says, “I like you. You’re special to me but this is strictly platonic and it’s going to stay that way.”
The way the wind and air feels intimate on your skin right before a storm and the smell of wet concrete and ozone reaches you miles beforehand. It says so much.
When you’re having dinner with a couple and in the midst of conversation they give each other a look and an entire conversation is in that look.
“I’m getting tired.”
“Yeh, me too.”
“Are you ready to go?”
“Soon. Let’s hang out a little longer.”
“Okay. It’s good to get out like this, isn’t it?”
“Better enjoy it while we have the chance.”
“Definitely. But let me know when you’re ready.”
“Okay, you too.”
And all that happens within about half a second of unspoken communication. And you can see it. Like I said in the previous post, if you want to write you have to see the world around you as a story, as art, as a message, as an interwoven tapestry. You’ll become aware of the subspace communication and signals that people are constantly broadcasting to one another. You’ll find yourself tuning into detail and subtlety.
And then you can capture it.
Holy fudge, how long have I been writing this? It’s late. I need sleep. Been getting to work ridiculously late.
More later, maybe. Join me, my friends. Write. Sing. Dance. Make music. Whatever.
Express yourself. We’re listening/watching and we’ve got your back.
When Can I See You
(I have Marc Anthony??)
Give In, You Just Can’t Win
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
Barney Kessel with Shelley Manne and Ray Brown
Is There Anybody Here That Love My Jesus
Medeski, Martin & Wood
Can You Feel a Brand New Day
The Wiz (Original Soundtrack)
Entrance to Zanzibar
Room for The Life
Murder Me Rachael
Come Into My World
New York Voices
The Critics Choice
Pont des Arts