I have my husband, Laurence, to thank for the inspiration of this week’s posting and his observations struck me just how powerful metaphors are in our daily communications. They permeate not only our thoughts but also our actions. The use of metaphors is in the first instance a source of creativity, but their application also provides us with a mechanism of making sense of certain aspects of our lives, such as the creative process of writing.
In my posting last week I attempted to try and understand more about our muse and how to build a better relationship with her. Following on from my reflections, I would suggest that the form of creative communication with our muse is heavily reliant on the use of metaphors. We often grapple to find the right words with which to describe our thoughts and feelings and this is exactly the time when a metaphor has the power to assist us to eloquently express ourselves.
Metaphors have the ability to enhance ordinary language and in the process of writing, it allows the reader to co-create the story through their own interpretation of the meaning of a particular metaphor. It also entices the reader to want more by capturing their imagination and drawing the reader into the story. The adage suggesting a painting tells a thousand words are equally true of metaphors. Probably because as with a painting they sketch a picture which would require many words to convey the same meaning, thereby bridging the gaps in language.
They also add vibrant colours and spices to what might otherwise be a rather bland and dull piece of writing. Metaphors are a powerful vehicle through which to create the appropriate mood and set the tone of a piece of writing because of the emotion metaphors convey. The characters in a book come alive through metaphors that amplify their personalities. The fun is in creating our own original metaphors, which makes our writing unique. The advice from the experts therefor is to avoid clichés at all cost! Instead, loosen up and allow the creative juices of your muse to flow.
I was first alerted to how often I use metaphors in everyday speech, whether in communication with others or with myself when I was taking a break from my writing one afternoon this week. I justified it to myself by saying I needed to allow my thoughts and ideas to ferment like a good wine. Of course, being in France, it was a most appropriate metaphor to articulate to myself that a break was necessary. I hasten to add that the break didn’t include any consumption of wine. Well, not then but probably following the strenuous activities!
Instead, I spent the afternoon trying to reclaim our garden path, as well as the garden itself, from the clutches of the brambles. In our absence, these aggressive creepers had once again established themselves with the fierce embrace of a very jealous lover. I was struck just how relevant gardening was as a powerful metaphor for the writing process. As I was wrestling with the brambles, I had fun in trying to identify as many garden metaphors as I could; the seeds of ideas, nurturing the fledgling ideas through sun, water and feed, pruning away the dead wood or irrelevant words, to name but a few.
I have no doubt that you will have many of your own examples of gardening or any other metaphor that has helped you to make sense of a situation or experience in the past. At the risk of dampening any enthusiasm for metaphors, I do feel a word of caution is necessary. Consider your audience and be conscious whether your metaphors will be understood in a different cultural context. An example is the use of sports metaphors often used in relation to organizations, as they are not always transferable to cultures that do not understand a particular sport. The result is exclusion.
I end with the following quote by Aristotle from his Poetics:
“But the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars.”