Monday, October 25, 2010

Using Writing Devices

I often hear the rule, “Don’t use too many metaphors”. I was never convinced about this advice. For starters it’s a little simplistic. What’s too many? One could be too many if it’s not the right one. Instead, I think it would be more accurate to say, “Be careful when you use metaphors – or any other writing device.”

When used incorrectly writing devices, such as metaphors, similes, alliteration, and so on, can hang in prose like Christmas decorations in April. They are more than pretty baubles. They are tools to help the reader gain a deeper understanding of the things we want to say, the worlds we want to share, the emotions we want to explore. Their purpose is to bring our stories alive, to inject richness, flavour, and depth. These devices help us weave images in the readers’ mind. They play with rhythm and sound. They tease the senses.

Writing devices need to add to the prose, not detract from it. Clichés will detract because they’ve been so over used that they’ve lost their effectiveness. To avoid clichés the writer needs to make the extra effort and get inside their subject. The writer needs to ask themselves, “Does this clarify my meaning, or is it just extra words that I could toss?”

By keeping this in mind, these devices become a powerful tool.

Do you use many writing devices in your prose? Do you have any favourites? Can you think of other ways of keeping these devices in check?
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Over the weekend N R Williams held a blogging Halloween Party. It was lots of fun. I'm still visiting all the party-goers. (I'm a little slow in my Hobbit costume). Double choc chip chocolate cupcakes for all those in costume!

41 comments:

  1. I'm most guilty of alliteration. Cliches usually aren't in my writing unless a character is speaking it in dialogue, and only if it's a variant of the old cliche.

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  2. Jeffrey, I like alliteration too. When it's done carefully it's a great way of adding a certain sound and feel to the prose.

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  3. Metaphors can work to describe a person. I try to avoid cliches unless it is a character's trait to speak them.

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  4. I don't use a lot - but a good metaphor can give me absolute chills! :)

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  5. Good post. I think anything can be used if, like you pointed out, it's right for that particular instance.

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  6. Great post. I'm often blunt in my writing and I don't use metaphors and the like often. But, I'm trying to balance. I know that once and a while, I'd like to put one in.

    CD

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  7. Helen, yes metaphors work well in description.

    Jemi, whenever I read a good one I wish I'd thought of it first ;)

    Laura, when it's right, it's right :)

    Clarissa, balance is important, but so is personal style :)

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  8. I don't use very many and I think I should use more. I enjoy metaphors and similes. I just recently learned what alliterations were, so I was thinking about that as well.

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  9. Summer, only use them if they add something to your work otherwise they may stand out in the wrong way. But it's always good to try different techniques :)

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  10. Alliterations and metaphors can be called my weakness. I avoid cliches because they have been done to death and have become ineffective.

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  11. Lynda - I enjoy a metaphor, but like you say, it needs to give chills. It needs to describe exactly and not sound corny. Also, too many and it takes away from the story because they start to stand out. One or two can be amazing!

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  12. Gosh, I don't know that I use any writing devices (and is that a good or bad thing?). I do know that my first drafts are filled with cliches and so I have to spend a lot of time in subsequent drafts weeding them out (SEE! What'd I tell ya?) ;)

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  13. I usually don't like to read too many metaphors, mixed metaphors or obscure metaphors in fiction, but lately I've been reading Charlaine Harris and her southern girls do use a lot of metaphors in their dialogue - but I think that's good because it's the stereotype I expect. So, I agree the answer on how many's too may would be it depends :-)

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  14. I don't use cliches (an editor recently added one to a short story I had published in a magazine and I was horrified) and I try to limit the use of metaphors. Metaphors are effective but only when used in moderation!

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  15. Hi,

    Thanks for dropping by my blog.

    Like every tool, used wisely the skill of the craftsman shines through, but on occasion even the most skilled of wordsmith's will fall foul to glittering baubles, cascading fountains of chocolate prose and golden crowned wrong usage, hence every term literary function flaunted, and oft markedly noted within bestselling books. ;)

    best
    F

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  16. I use metaphors, and similes, and descriptive language, but I try not to overload on any of these. One thing I try not to use is dialogue tags - I even avoid "said". I just can't bring myself to type it.

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  17. you know, i've never really thought about this... but i do think that the word cliche is overused by authors-to-be. i think cliche is more of a spectrum kinda thing. some things are obviously overused, while others are more comfy and familiar... sometimes i think prose reads smoother if the author uses a familiar (although not overused) phrase to describe something, instead of reaching for some awkward "unique" description.... i get more distracted as a reader by over-reaching overly-odd phrases than even extremely cliche ones... does that make sense?

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  18. I do love me some Christmas decorations both in the house and in the books I'm reading. But like in all other decorating business, the artist just has to have taste and style!

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  19. I try to weed out any cliches during revision and rewrites.

    And I love playing with metaphors and similes. Many of them don't make it into the final draft but the ones that do are often the result of many fun attempts.

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  20. Great post, well said. I tend to sprinkle figures of speech liberally and have to weed some out. I TRY not to put more than a couple per page, but to me, similes and metaphors are the spice of writing, what makes it creative and exhilarating. Examples from one of my own novels I nabbed from my first 20 pages:

    Her nerves scrambled like frenzied insects in her stomach.

    A whirring noise fluttered the air like the sound of pigeon wings.

    His knobby hands scored the air like a bizarre orchestra conductor's.

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  21. I try to avoid them, but I'm sure a few appeared here in there in my book.

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  22. I like metaphors if they're used in a different or kind of twisted way! :) I used quite a few humorous (to me, anyway) metaphors and similes in my novel!

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  23. Literary devices are tools and, as tools, have their greatest utility when used only when they're appropriate to what you're trying to achieve. Misuse a literary tool and you could have the equivalent of using a hammer to turn a screw. Oops...was that metaphor or simile...or what? :)

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  24. I don't use metaphors very often, nor alliteration. I'm sure I've got a few "cliches" in my writing but I don't use that many writing devices. Editing usually helps me add the necessary stuff.

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  25. I think properly used devices enhance the prose and help the reader get immersed. Where we often go wrong is writing them from our pov when they should always come from the character's pov. Whoever it is taking center stage in that chapter.

    I learned a useful tool to help - create a lexicon for each major character.

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  26. Rachna,I think they are my weakness as well ;)

    RaShelle, yep exactly. Anything that stands out from your prose should go.

    Jennifer, lol. I think everyone uses writing devices to some extent, but really it comes down to your own personal style or what you are trying to convey.

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  27. Charmaine, oh yes, metaphors in dialogue would add a lot to the type of characters they are.

    Ellie, hahaha, that's so funny that an editor actually ADDED a cliche! I can understand why you'd be horrified.

    Francine, did you say cascading fountains of chocolate??? I'm so easily distracted by chocolate... ;) But you are right...right with chocolatey goodness :)

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  28. Ishta, yep, too much of ANYthing should be avoided.

    Aspiring, you make a very good point. It's also like the writing rule of avoiding adverbs...so new writers take out every single adverb -- but they do have their uses. You just have to know when to use them.

    Dezzy, taste and style are key..but I do love my shinies ;)

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  29. Paul, oh yes, it's good to play and experiment to see what works and what doesn't. Giving yourself this freedom means you have a greater chance of finding that gem.

    Carol, great examples of similies. They do add spice.

    Alex, it's soemtimes a style thing.

    Talli, looking forward to that novel :)

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  30. Mohamed, oh, it's so good to see you again!!! lol, great example. That would be a simile because it's "like" not "is" (if that makes sense)

    Golden, I try not to use too much alliteration because it tends to stand out too much. Imagine if we couldn't edit..eeeek!

    M Pax, yep you make another really good point. They should come from the character's pov. Because I write a lot of fantasy I can't liken anything to, say, cars, for example.

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  31. Your example is well used. I agree with you, only use when adding flavor to a dish that is otherwise unseasoned.
    Nancy
    PS...thanks for the note and link at the end.

    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

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  32. Nancy, thanks too for holding such a great blog party! :)

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  33. Oh my gosh, I'm in love with metaphors, similies and the like! Although, I try everything I can not to use them very often, I often catch myself slipping them into my WIP without even realizing it. Until I edit and proofread and say, 'what the hell was I thinking here?'. LOL

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  34. I'm always a little nervous to use metaphors and similies because a bad one can be disastrous. But I love them when they're well done. Holly Black is a master at that.

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  35. Nathalie, lol..gotta love those WTHeck moments. I get them all the time when I edit.

    Susan, Joanne harris is also a master (author of Chocolat).

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  36. Like most writers I avoid cliches. I try to be original as I can. If I use something common its due to ignorance, not from a lack of effort or research.

    Stephen Tremp

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  37. Good morning. I gave you a blog award today. Come by and snag it.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

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  38. Stephen, sometimes what one person may classify as a cliche, another will consider as an accepted phrase.

    Nancy, oh! Thanks so much! :)

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  39. I'm a fan of alliteration, mainly because it makes prose slightly more poetic when read, so I'd made it more character specific when I'd write from a certain POV.

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  40. It depends on how you use the writing devices. We all have our own style and abilities.

    I love metaphors because you can say so much about the story or the characters with them. There are many writing devices that aid in storytelling because they give an added layer to the words.

    Jai

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  41. Jamie, alliteration definitely adds poetry to prose.

    Jai, absolutely. Personal style is important to find.

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I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.