Writing And Metaphor

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What’s Your Metaphor for writing?

Returning to fiction with my novel, A Bridge To the Quiet Planet and its upcoming sequel, a School of Many Futures, required me to think about writing a lot. Thinking about writing, how to conceive of it, how to pace it, how to develop it helps you, well, write. A metaphor gives you tools to think in and ways to improve.

For nonfiction I think of it in abstract, visual forms. I’m so used to writing it and have for so long that my metaphors are things I see and feel. Perhaps once I had to use more concrete terms, but time makes things unconscious and automatic, and I don’t remember.

But fiction? That was harder because I’d not thought about – and when I was rethinking my writing methods, I realized I was treating fiction as a “physical” thing.

You’ve heard me talk about “Big Rocks” as pieces of fiction and plot. I’ve discussed Agile and stories, but Agile comes from physical manufacturing and store stocking – it often has “physical” ideas built in. I treated stories and chapters as scenes as boxes containing various events.

Did these limit me? Hell yes, because fiction – and indeed a lot of writing – probably isn’t best thought of in physical metaphors. It’s too limiting, too atomistic, too confining.

Now how did I realize this? Because I was analyzing writing (as I always do) and realized how important editing is, and editing requires a product. You make something then improve it.

Writing fiction is like writing computer code.

Computer code is more a living thing, with components and distinct parts, but it works because all its parts come together. It’s about flows of information and functionality. Best of all, as long as you have it working – no matter how awful – you can improve in. In fact, you often have to make bad code to get good code because you don’t know how it’s going to work until you have something.

Seeing this metaphor, this new metaphor, really helped me get over some of my writing challenges. Thinking about the parts of a fictional story as physical started to fade away. I had a way to see things differently.

My metaphor or metaphors may not be yours. Even my more abstract ways of thinking are my ways, not yours. But a challenge to you, my writing friend, is to find what metaphors help you write. What is a good way to compare writing to something else that helps you?

Maybe you have it. Maybe you don’t. Or maybe you just thought of it and have more to explore . . .

Steven Savage