That’s Metaphorically Speaking, Of Course

Metaphorical language is gold bouillon. It is concentrated, desirable, and does so much.  Metaphorical language is economical: few words carry swift meaning. Metaphorical language traffics in images; it’s the ultimate show don’t tell.

–Tom Romano, Crafting Authentic Voice

I am reading Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop.  It’s the story of a man, Jean Perdu, who makes his living selling books from a houseboat moored on the Seine.  Jean has what he terms ‘transperception;’ he can tell what a person needs to read by talking with him, by asking her questions. He listens to not just the answers, but to the words people use, the images they conjure, the lenses they use to frame their lives.  Then he recommends just the right book to loosen the blocked emotions, to clarify the hazy situation.

The Little Paris Bookshop reminds me a lot of Joanne Harris’s Chocolat.  In that book, also, of course, set in France, confectioner Vianne Rocher uses chocolate to reach and heal and inspire the denizens of the village in which she settles.

Nina George uses books and reading as a metaphor, a framework, for revealing the vast and rollicking bunch of characters in her novel; Harris uses lustrous, delectable chocolate treats.

What, I wonder, would I use?

What would you?

Our language is rife with metaphors created by other minds, invoking other visions.  But what good does it do me to say, “I’m as happy as a lark” if indeed, I’ve never seen a lark?  In writing, I have an opportunity to use my own lens to frame the metaphors I use, creating the images I want to convey.

How do I–how do WE–find that individual lens? How do we make the magic that Tom Romano writes about in the quote above?

This is a chance to ask: What are the most important themes in my life?

I’m right on board with George’s books-as-metaphor; that speaks right to my reader’s heart. I am delighted to find a little anthology provided by Nina George at the back of her novel.  Her list includes things as diverse as Tom Sawyer, Dracula, the Delta of Venus, and Game of Thrones. Contemplating her recommendations, I think that George has cited books that address the issues of personal growth, inner struggle, the confrontation of demons. The Little Paris Bookshop is–surely no accident–all about those themes. Thinking of my own top ten books, I’d have to say my themes deal more with the challenges of living in community, navigating relationship, creating a place in the hierarchy of human life.

So. Family and community may be lenses for me.  Sketching out a situation, I could invoke loving parents, or I could talk about distant, autocratic ones, to describe leaders; I could impart a sense of what the community is like by writing about supportive siblings– or about brothers and sisters with destruction and mayhem in mind. Even if those kinds of people did not exist in our own families, we’d still have points of reference.

Because education is a huge part of my life and values, maybe a classroom or a college could provide a metaphorical framework for my image.  I could write about stern schoolteachers, and I bet you’d understand.  I could invoke the class clown, hoping we all had one of those in our experiences.

And cooking…that could also work.  I’m not as conversant as Joanne Harris with the grades and lusciousness of fine chocolate (although her book makes me want to be), but I could easily look at life in terms of spaghetti sauce simmering, cookies warm from the oven, stale cereal left too long in milk that’s just a sniff away from being off…Those images would help me convey abundance, safety, comfort, and those times when life has turned a little bit sour.

My father framed his world in terms of sport.  For instance: When a likable but pale and puffy boy stayed at our house for a weekend, a visitor to my high school on a band trip, Dad sat down and talked to him for a long bit. Later he said to me, indulgently, accepting, nudging his chin toward the boy, “Ping pong player.” For him, the metaphor was clear.

What about you?  What are the overarching lenses that you might use to create personal metaphor that sends that swift zing of meaning to your readers?

A wonderful blogger, Rachel Mankowitz, ( uses her lovable dogs as a lens through which she shares her world.  Rachel addresses a topic, or an issue, and talks about how her pup Cricket might handle that, or how Butterfly might react in the exact same situation, and suddenly–even if our own dogs are crazy mutts, even if we ourselves don’t have dogs–Rachel’s meaning is crystal clear. (This is a blog, by the way, worth a visit and a long browse.)

In our blogging community, among all of our gifted writers and artists, I see many fields for metaphor.  Travel is one, and oh, such opportunities for metaphor exist within that context.  Fine art is another; and music with all of its styles and harmonies, discordance and comfort, is a ripe tree from which to harvest metaphors and symbols to ignite our writing. Fashion and medicine, coffee and family…so many frameworks.  So many different eyes and voices.

It’s fun to think of the things that drive our lives and ponder how to use those passions to impart our thoughts, forging a strong, direct link to our readers. As writers and bloggers, one of the challenges we face, I think, is to continuously define and refine the metaphors we use to send our messages. Our metaphoric lenses shift and change as we grow and evolve.  And it’s important to do this, to examine our frameworks, continuously; the process keeps us aware of the changes within, even when they are subtle, soft changes–but substantial ones.

[It’s kind of like a child realizing her big sister has stepped into puberty, embracing new friendships and jettisoning her love of kickball and Capture the Flag.  She’s embarked on a journey to love and learning that the younger one isn’t ready to take.  There is yearning and there is melancholy acceptance in that realization.

Or, it might be like the recurring dream I have–showing up in a classroom I’ve never visited before to realize today is the day of the final exam.  Learning has been taking place; why was I not aware?]

Mapping our metaphors, using them in our writing, helps us to be aware of our own lenses–and to realize when our lenses shift.

What are your lenses?  What are your metaphors?  How can we each deliver that zing of meaning to the other???

Happy blogging, my friends.


#creative writing