Friday, April 19, 2013

A Whale of a Metaphor

I just finished reading (again) Ray Bradbury's Green Shadows, White Whale about the time he spent in Ireland writing the screenplay for Moby Dick  with John Huston in the 1950s. Part memoir, part novelization, he brings the people of Ireland to life to the point that your head voice will develop an Irish lilt. Be forewarned - there is a bit of language some may find offensive - just sayin.'  The book is a study in story structure, dialogue, description and metaphor.  Especially metaphor.  So much so that I've gotten out my metaphor drum and I'm beating it.

He inky-pen harpooned the whale for seven months until he arrived at a metaphor in the form of nailing a gold coin to the mast that helped him complete it.  Here is some of what he discovered:
"At last the metaphors were falling together...What nailed it fast was hammering the Spanish gold ounce to the mast.  If I hadn't fastened on that for starters, the other metaphors...might not have surfaced...Well, the gold a very large symbol.  It embodies all that the seaman want, along with what Ahab insanely desires above all...The men do not know it, but the sound they hear of the maul striking the coin's fastening nail is their sea-coffin lid being hammered flat shut."

I love that he shared his 'aha!' moment with us.  What genius!  Here is a quote from his website: 
"I was born a collector of metaphors," he says. "Metaphors are the center of life."  Here's the rest of the article, in case your interested:
I borrowed this quote from a much earlier post of Latayne's:  "The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblance. –Aristotle, Poetics

Perhaps because I'm a visual learner, I tend to categorize metaphors as either small and functional - maybe even obvious - or big-picture, bone-structure scaffolding that adds layers of richness and depth.  It probably takes a bit of genius to create that type of metaphor without being over the top or creating a caricature.  I think Mr. Bradbury pulls it off quite well.

What about you, do you see metaphors in life?  Do you employ them in your own writing, or know of an outstanding example that you could share with us? 

P.S.  I couldn't help sharing this from his website, too:  "A second encounter with the entertainment industry came in 1961 when Bradbury was hired by MGM to write the narration for Orson Welles to speak in King of Kings. "It was fun to go back and narrate the entire life of Christ. They took my script and came back and said, 'We don't have an ending."' Bradbury laughs. "I said 'Really? Have you tried reading the Bible?"'


Cherry Odelberg said...

A most inspiring read for this morning when I am feeling a bit down about my writing. I visited a bookstore yesterday. So many books. How could mine ever find a place among them, or be found if it did? I visited some platform blog sites this morning. How will I ever succeed when my voice and format does not meet the taste of those offering advice and critique?
Then, I stopped by Novel Matters. Nailing a gold coin to the mast sounds much like fastening a hiking medallion to my hiking stick. I can do that. I can put one foot in front of the other. One step at a time, I can scale high mountains. Loved the re-quote about being master of metaphor. Once upon a time, a writing workshop instructor said metaphor was what I did best (never mind that a contest judge questioned my use of the word metaphor). On praise, I can run a long time in the desert. Thanks for being my oasis.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Cherry, so glad the post helped! Listen to your instincts and keep writing what you do best.

Lori Benton said...

The type of metaphors I'm really drawn to are the big picture type you mentioned. I love to find those in the deep layers of the books I read, but I tend to write them into my stories without realizing it during the first draft. Or even the second or third draft. In fact, in Burning Sky, there was a metaphor for the character's journey staring me right in the face the whole time, but it took a perceptive endorser to reveal it to me. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or an area where I need to grow as a writer! I'd like to come at my work with more intentionality (metaphorically speaking), but that surprising layering that happens on a subconscious level has a magic about it I'm not sure I'd want to give up. There's no predicting that magic, so maybe I should just take as a blessing when and if it visits, and hold it in an open hand.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Lori, I agree. 'Don't fix it if it ain't broke.' Whole-story metaphors are scrumptious and rich. I will check out Burning Sky!

Jennifer Major said...

For me, writing, and the education that has accompanied it, has been rather like an expedition in the jungle. Warm at times, blazing hot at others, feeling vulnerable, or feeling like I am the top of the palm tree, free from the predators. But finally, I am no longer alone and I've become part of a huge team all marching in the same, long, obedient direction.

I used this line, when one of the characters was sort of stunned. "He breathed hard and quick, like he’d just broken the surface of the sea."

Megan Sayer said...

Debbie this was lovely.
I love seeing metaphors in life, and I LOVE it when bits of my life start following traditional story elements. It helps me believe that things do--and will--make sense, and that there is the great Author directing me.
It's still funny though.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

In my story the girl in the cage receives a present from her brother outside: a hummingbird egg. It is a message, no matter how difficult to obtain or well guarded, he has the power to find and acquire. To her it represents her vulnerability and fragility but also rarity, value and worth. And it is something easy to conceal, almost devious; that perhaps she may escape the notice of her captor enough to escape his cage.
The captor has brands on the palms of his hands, placed voluntarily during a ceremony, representing his dedication and uniqueness to the task. To him they represent horror of pain and his flaws and inadequacy for the task.
A poignant moment comes after the girl escapes and the captor finds the egg. He rolls it along and over the ridges of the brand scar. He is thinking how he loves her and wishes to protect her. We are left wondering how the flaws of his personality imperil her.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Jennifer, you make a good analogy about the education of writing. Love your line about breaking the surface of the sea. Who couldn't feel that right along with your character?

Megan, it is a lovely post. I appreciate your comment, particularly about the great Author. Right now in my life I think he's taking that great advice about getting your character up a tree, then throwing rocks at her. I say that tongue-in-cheek. Sort of.

Henrietta, what a beautiful simile you've portrayed.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Uh oh. I misspoke. I should have said, Henrietta, what a beautiful metaphor you've portrayed. My mind was saying one thing, and my fingers typed another. Hate when that happens.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Thanks! I was worried! So grateful for all of you.