How To Make The Move From Simple Storyteller To Complex Literature-Maker Today

Use metaphors and symbols to deepen your writing today

Literature is heightened storytelling; established writing of this kind utilizes sophisticated rhetorical devices to create a tapestry of words that not only conveys story, but also reinforces the meaning of life, and imparts a coherent philosophy.

When you change from a teller of tales to a maker of literature, your work and your readers dive to a deeper level. You become an artist, and your words take on significant weight. You start to edge into the big leagues.

Moving from storytelling to literature-making is surprisingly simple, once you begin to think in terms of symbol and extended metaphor. To begin with, let’s define our terms.

Symbol And Metaphor

A metaphor is an item or a description that creates an echo, or a comparison, for a scenario unfolding in the wider story. In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the repressed priest is in his secret alchemy-studying office, and a spider on the window sucks the life out of an innocent fly. The scene functions as foreshadowing for how the priest is about to descend upon the gypsy, Esmerelda. The spider, its web, and the fly form an extended metaphor for the priest and the situation that follows.

A symbol is an item that represents something more than itself. In Cyrano de Bergerac, the white plume of de Guiche becomes a symbol of Cyrano’s integrity and his unstained honor. The plume functions most powerfully when de Guiche abandons it in the battlefield in order to escape death or capture, and Cyrano goes back over the open ground and picks up the officer’s scarf, bearing it back to the fortifications unscathed.

A symbol is fixed, and a metaphor is often momentary.

But That’s Classical Literature, Not Science Fiction Or Fantasy

Great fiction, especially great science fiction and fantasy, borrows functional devices from established literature. The stronger the use of metaphor and symbol, the more lasting an impression your genre writing leaves behind.

If you ever took a course where you deconstructed an array of literary devices, you may have gotten the impression that writing serious fiction is fraught with complication, and likely involves a copious amount of note-taking, meditation, and studious straining for super-impressive exhibitionism with words.

Well, It Is, Isn’t It?

Not according to me, it isn’t.

What Do You Know About Writing Serious Literature?

Here, I’ll prove it to you. Let’s look at an example. I’ll write a simple story, and then I’ll write it again and insert an easy metaphor. You will be able to see for yourself how the writing takes on an insta-glow of importance and weight.

Today’s Example

Simple Story:

Sorsha had never been impregnated before, but the procedure was painless, and her body, for a long time afterwards, felt just the same as it ever had. She was not due for relocation until the sixth month of gestation, and she went about her days in a fog. That she was about to be sold and processed as a surrogate, a contractual item owned by a wealthy Drivage family, and that her sole purpose in the future would be to bear and nurse children for the alien beings, made no deep impression on her mind. It did not feel real to Sorsha, and she continued to scrub floors and read the evening news with a quiet focus that impressed her neighbors deeply.

“Sorsha is so brave,” the next-door wife murmured to her husband on the day after the midpoint procedure was completed. Sorsha’s fate was an open secret in the metropolis; she had come up in the national poll, and each family in her building enjoyed a glow of instant fame and glory, because of their near association with the chosen one.

And Now, With A Metaphor:

Sorsha kept a potted plant in her bedroom window, and the morning sun made the broad leaves translucent. An echo of the leaves, a shining green shadow, shone over her dresser on the morning she went into the government lab.

Sorsha had never been impregnated before, but the procedure was painless, and her body, for a long time afterwards, felt just the same as it ever had. She was not due for relocation until the sixth month of gestation, and she went about her days in a fog. That she was about to be sold and processed as a surrogate, a contractual item owned by a wealthy Drivage family, and that her sole purpose in the future would be to bear and nurse children for the alien beings, made no deep impression on her mind. It did not feel real to Sorsha, and she continued to scrub floors and read the evening news beside her potted plant with a quiet focus that impressed her neighbors deeply.

“Sorsha is so brave,” the next-door wife murmured to her husband on the day after the midpoint procedure was completed. Sorsha’s fate was an open secret in the metropolis; she had come up in the national poll, and each family in her building enjoyed a glow of instant fame and glory, because of their near association with the chosen one.

As the reptilian infant swelled slowly within Sorsha’s body, her potted plant began, despite her scrupulous care, to wither. The leaves, once green and firm, shrank into curls of brown, and on the morning the aliens were due to arrive for collection, the last leaf broke away from the stem, and drifted noiselessly to the floor. Sorsha watched the dead thing, and she pressed her palm to the plump rise of her abdomen.

Using Literary Tools Is Easy

In the above example, we have a climbing plant as a metaphor for Sorsha’s free life. As her independent “I can do what I like” status visibly diminishes with the growth of her implanted child, the formerly-healthy plant dies.

Any object can become a metaphor. As we continue Sorsha’s story, we can easily extend the metaphor by establishing a new, alien potted piece of fauna in her new home, and if, in the course of the story, she begins to regain her freedom and powers of volition, the alien plant will begin to thrive and flower.

What About Symbols?

A symbol, essentially, is a fixed metaphor. If Sorsha picked up her dead potted plant, and brought it on board the alien ship with her (they would confiscate it, and in the struggle, she would grab hold of a shard of the broken pot, and a smidgen of dead leaf), the pot piece would become, to Sorsha, an emblem of her previous life, and a symbol of Earth. She could carry the shard with her, and when/if she gains a happy ending, she could incorporate the shard into her costume or living space. The potted plant would, in this case, upgrade from a metaphor to an established symbol.

That’s All For Today!

If there are things in your story, as in, props, plants, pets, or weather, you can use them as metaphors. Establishing symbols and metaphors can be easy and fun, and you can deepen the impact of your writing with them.

You’ve been reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. My books are here. Tuesday is a great day to start a new book!

Advertisements