Like that one guy said: Good writers borrow, great writers steal. Welcome to the place where all things have been lifted, looted, and otherwise pilfered…Remember, possession is 9/10s of the law.
This week’s Saturday pages is all about figurative language and taking leaps. I’m also going to offer you different levels to try your hand at – depending on whether you a lighter writing exercise or if you’re game for some heavier lifting. The most important thing about today’s exercise is that you shut up your inner critic and just write. Embrace the process. Hesitations are bad for big leaps.
One writer who ties in with Neil Gaiman is Terry Pratchett. Pratchett’s on the mentor docket, so stay tuned, we’ll be talking more about him later this year. I mention Pratchett in this post because I’m reminded of a comparison he made in one of his books which I have remembered, literally, for years. Because, when you write that Lord Vetinari, the city’s ruling official, is like “a carnivorous flamingo,” that’s memorable.
So, go get your jumping shoes on and let’s do this.
Pick something to describe. It can be a person, an object, a feeling, or anything else you might be tempted to tack an adverb to. Feel free to use something in a piece you’re working on, or take a look around the room you’re in right now and do a little “eenie, meanie, minie, mo”.
Take out a blank page. Number it 1-20. Stretch your writing (or typing) fingers and, as fast as you can, write 20 metaphors and/or similes about your subject. Aim for the far-fetched, the odd, the unusual. Don’t over think it. Don’t pause. Keep your fingers moving.
Once you’ve written 20, take a look at your list. Find the comparisons that you’ve seen before and cross them off. Likewise, take off any that are too literal, too easy. Next, cross off the ones that fall flat. What are you left with? The most awesome comparisons you’ve ever written about that apple.
Now that you’ve got your list narrowed down to your best material, pick the comparison that seems the most far-fetched. Flip to a new page and write your comparison at the top. Your job is to take your oddball comparison and turn it into an extended metaphor. Now that you have something like, “Life is like a box of pickled sardines,” at the top of your page, you’re going to write a paragraph that really fleshes your comparison out.
Think of every possible point of intersection between the two things you’re comparing and write those down. If you were Terry Pratchett, you’d be describing how a carnivorous flamingo walks, how it sounds, how it looks at you with pink, beady eyes that see right into your soul. Like Level 1, the key here is write fast and write a lot. That thought that just flashed through your mind that made you think, “No, that’s too silly to write down”? Write it down.
Once you’ve filled as much of the page as you can, take a breath and look over what you’ve done. Right now, you probably have one of your most original descriptions. How cool is that?
Now I challenge you to take your figurative language leap and build a short story, or maybe a poem, around it.