Tag Archives: metaphor

Metaphor Monday: The Painted Closet


Metaphor Monday is a new thing we’re trying out around here. Every week, I’ll pick a thing and compare it to another thing. Probably writing, since that’s what this blog is about, but who knows? Metaphors are awesome. Alliteration, doubly so. Got a suggestion for next week’s metaphor? Drop it in the comments. And yeah, I’m a day late today — you’ll see why below.

We’re moving (finally!) and as a result, most of my thoughts bend in that direction. The whole affair got delayed and postponed and we ran out of time this summer to deal with it the way we would have liked, and now we’re having to rush through things. Instead of two weeks to sort our lives out before we got back to work, we were left with more like two days, so it’s a frantic rush of movers and building furniture and unloading boxes and the house looks like a war zone if the war were fought between rival manufacturers of styrofoam peanuts.

So we’re hustling to get the kids’ rooms painted (because if we don’t do it now, it’ll never happen), and I catch my wife sort of staring into the closet. Hands on hips. Thoughtful frown on her lips.

“What’s up?” I ask.

“I don’t know if I can handle these closets,” she says.

I look. While most of the rest of the house is immaculate, the closets are not — especially the ones in the kids’ rooms. They were obviously occupied by kids before, and bear the scars of it. Dings and chips in the drywall where toys or sporting equipment were chucked heedlessly in. Aimless, careless scribbles in crayon and marker — not a design or an attempt at artwork, just an outburst of uncertain creative energy.

I shrug. “It’s a closet.”

“I know, but it’s going to bother me.”

Really? I’ve got bunkbeds to build and a rain forest in the backyard to trim down and about a bajillion boxes to haul up the stairs and you want to waste time painting a closet? Why? Who’s going to see it?

Come to think of it, I mean, when’s the last time you saw the back of your own closet, let alone anybody else’s? Leaving the closet in that state is a crime without a victim; literally nobody will ever know. I begin to protest, but I don’t get very far.

“No, I really want to paint over them.”

Happy wife, happy life, they say. So I go down to the basement in search of the primer. We crack it open and go to work with the rollers, and the job is done in less than an hour. We don’t even do a good job, really — the color’s not a perfect match to what’s in there already, and some of the really dark marks show through — but the closets look miles better.

And my wife is smiling a little more.

And so am I.

So, what’s a painted closet have to do with anything? Well, it’s exactly what it is: a lovely little detail that nobody else knows is there. It’s Van Gogh’s signature twisted into the whorls of a sunflower. An authorial flourish added, not for the well-being of the observer, but for the well-being of the author.

An oft-quoted bit of advice for the writer is “kill your darlings.” Generally, it means that those weird little things that you stuck into the work for your own benefit? Because they made you laugh, or amused you, without serving the story as a whole? Those are things which distract from the narrative, that seem to stand for bigger things and thus demand the reader’s attention, and then frustrate the reader when they don’t. They’re a waste of time, in other words. Everybody involved has better things to do. So they deserve, to butcher syntax in a way I feel rolls right off the tongue, to be got rid of. (Diagram that sentence, Ms. Finch!)

But a closet doesn’t take that much time to paint, and there’s the odd house guest who might poke their nose into the nooks and crannies of the place; wouldn’t we rather give them a nice, finished closet to look at rather than a pockmarked and graffitied (graffiti’d?) hidey-hole we hoped would never see the light of day?

By the same token, a story needs a few diversions. A few rabbit holes for readers to dive into, even if there’s nothing hiding at the bottom.

And, after all, a happier wife is worth an hour’s worth of work with a paint roller.

 


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Press Your Luck


There was this show, pretty big-time in the 80s, called Press Your Luck. My dad absolutely loved this show, and so did I: it was basically a run-of-the-mill pure luck-based game where you spin a wheel to win cash and prizes. No skill involved as I remember (except for that one guy who memorized the pattern of the game board and won literally tens of thousands of dollars before they booted him). Just push your button and take your chances.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why we loved this show so much, except for one thing: the Whammies. Every game show of the era had its way to rob you of everything you had won in a moment’s bad luck — the bankrupt slice on the Wheel of Fortune, the wager-what-you-will spots on the Jeopardy board. Press Your Luck had the Whammy. Now, the Whammy took your money, but it was worse than that. The Whammy was this little turd-looking gnomelet in a banana-colored superhero cape who, when you hit the wrong square on the board, would swoop in and take your money. Not because he was a thief, but because he was an idiotic asshole. He’d drive a car in, lose control, and wipe out, taking your cash with him. He’d fly in from the sky, come in too hot, and punch a hole through the ground, and your cash would drain out.

But there was no great equalizer to this game. You couldn’t rely on trivia knowledge to save you from the Whammy. No amount of literary or linguistic savvy would ward him off. (Come to think of it, the show had female Whammies, too — which was actually rather gender-conscious of them for the time, though having a female turdlet character is a dubious gain for the women’s movement). If you wanted to win, you had to brave the Whammy.

I never realized what a perfect metaphor for life this show was. As prepared as you might be, if you want to achieve anything, you have to brave the Whammy. You could write the best book, be the most talented actor, paint the best picture, or, to quote a certain presidential hopeful, “have the best words,” and no small part of your success is still going to hinge on luck.

The Whammy of the real world might not take your money, but he (or she!) might very well take your dignity, your hope, your self-esteem, your dreams.

Luckily, the real world is not Press Your Luck, and we have our pockets literally bulging with free spins and re-spins — if we only have the guts to press the button.

 

 

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: The Anchor


So, you’re a writer.

And you have this project.

It’s a project that you’ve had for months, or maybe even years. It’s a project you return to time and time again, when inspiration for other work deserts you or when a bolt from the blue strikes and you just have to, have to, go work on that project again. Maybe it’s your first project, maybe it’s your latest one, maybe it’s a project you started and forgot about and go back to every few months. When your mind goes blank, inevitably your thoughts turn to that one project, and even if you’re not actively working on it, your brain is always bent toward it.

This project is the anchor.

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Like a security blanket, you need this project. It comforts you in times of need, it fills you with nostalgia; even just opening the file (or turning the pages, or unrolling the parchment you scribed it onto, you insane purist) makes you smile. Like a true anchor, this project keeps you moored. Keeps you grounded. Keeps you from getting off course, keeps you true to yourself — or at least true to the self you were when you started the project. Without the anchor project, you wouldn’t be the writer that you are, you wouldn’t write the way you do.

The anchor project is a good thing.

But the anchor project can’t stay forever.

Like a security blanket, it works wonders for you for a while, but eventually, you start to outgrow it. People stare if you’re still dragging it around in public. It gets threadbare and worn-out, and not even functional for its original purpose beyond a point. Like a true anchor, well, it keeps you from drifting off during the storm, but it also keeps you from letting down the sails and exploring the ocean.

Comes a time when you have to cut the anchor loose, when you have to accept the fact that you’ve outgrown it and move on. When you have to drop the anchor and sail out into the wild blue. When you realize that the anchor is not the project that needs your time, your effort, your constant thought anymore.

Accidentally Inspired has been my anchor project since I was in college, which is to say, for about fifteen years. The idea was born in a scriptwriting class in 2002, I expanded it into a full-length play by 2004, when it actually saw production with my old high school. Then I mothballed it for almost a decade, though I always hung onto the idea of turning it into a novel, and there it nested in the depths of my brain, ripening on the vine.

Well, I’ve followed through on that seed of an idea, finally. I wrote the novel. I’ve revised and edited it through several iterations. I’m working on one last edit now.

And somewhere along the road in this last edit, I realized it’s time to cut this anchor loose.

I love this project. I always will. but the longer I keep reworking it, the more I’m neglecting other stories I want to tell, the more I give in to the fear of putting it out there and letting it walk on its own, like a wobbly-kneed colt.

I’ve got about one more month left in this phase of the work, and then it’s time to pull up roots and let this puppy go.

Bittersweet, to be sure, but the time is right. It’s time to move on.

Am I alone in this, or is there an anchor holding you back, too?

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Interview With a Character


I was browsing around today, thinking about my novel and what I’m going to do with it, and I saw that my spirit guide, Chuck Wendig, had written a little piece about characters and how they drive action.  It’s perfectly obvious advice when you think about it, and it’s a model that I tried to adhere to in writing my first draft, but I wonder if I actually came as close to the mark as I believe I did.

To help me puzzle through that, I invited one of my characters here to talk it over a little bit.  Everybody, please give a nice, warm welcome to the fictional, frazzled, Andrew Remington.

(Andy enters to canned studio applause.)

Me: Andy, hi, it’s great to see you.

Andy: It’s nice to be seen.

Me: I’m really excited to have you here today.

Andy:  Well, I’m happy to be here.  You’ve had me through the wringer over the past few months, haven’t you?  It’s nice to have a bit of a break.

Me: True.  That’s my job as storyteller, you know, to give you a hard time.  No hard feelings.

Andy:  If you say so.

Me: Okay.  Let’s get right down to it, because I’m dying to pick your brain a little bit, you know?  Crack open the meaty bits and see what makes you tick.

Andy:  That’s a metaphor, right?

Me:  Yeah, I’ve been working on those.

Andy:  Okay, because I remember when you wrote about dropping the piano on that guy, and all of us in the book thought that was going to be a metaphor, but…

Me:  That one escalated quickly.

Andy:  Dry cleaning bills were horrendous.

Me:  That scene is probably not going to survive the first edit, if it makes you feel any better.

Andy:  A little.

Me:  Right.  So.  You’re a character in my book.  The first draft is done, your story is told for the time being.  What’s it like being you?

Andy:  Uhh, I’d have to say it’s a bit like living inside a ping-pong ball.

Me:  (Tapping note cards on the desk.)  Wow.  Um.  Wasn’t really expecting that.  A ping pong ball.  How do you mean?

Andy:  You picture a ping-pong ball, right?  Tiny, white.  Opaque.  Blows in the wind.  Yeah?  Say you could live inside of it, what would you see?

Me:  (Shrugs.)

Andy:  A whole lot of nothing, right?  You’ve basically just got the light and shadow outside of the ball and then somebody whacks you with a paddle and off you go, back and forth, over a net that you can’t really see, and you’re banging off the walls and knocking clocks over–

Me:  Like in the Great Gatsby.

Andy:  …yeah, not like that, really.  More in a chaotic hurricane of who-the-hell-knows-what’s-going-to-happen-next.

Me:  But that’s a good thing, right?  I mean, I’m supposed to keep the audience guessing to some extent, and that means keeping you guessing too, doesn’t it?

Andy:  I can see where yo’d think that, but let’s stick to the ping-pong ball.

Me:  Okay.

Andy:  The ball just bounces around from one side of the table to the other.  It has no will, it has no motivation.  It only goes where it’s told.

Me:  Uh huh.

Andy:  And, if you’re living inside of the ball, then it’s doubly so.  There aren’t even any windows to look out of to see where you’re headed, if you’re going in the right direction, or even if you’re making progress.  All you do is hang on until you get whacked by another paddle.

Me:  I see.

Andy:  If anything, living inside the ball, you’re completely at the mercy of the two giant dudes with the paddles.

Me:  Wait, there are giants now?

Andy:  Jesus, dude, stick with the metaphor.  Not actual giants.

Me:  Just testing you.

Andy:  Right.  (Gives me a serious side-eye.)  So, the … perfectly ordinary non-giants with the paddles.  They can put spin on the ball, they can slam it, spike it…

Me: I think those are volleyball terms, actually.

Andy:  Do you want to hear this or not?

Me:  Sorry.  But you’re saying you live inside the ball, so you don’t drive the action?

Andy:  It doesn’t feel like it.  It feels like the villains in the story, you know, they’re the ones with the paddles, just smacking the rest of us around the whole time.

Me:  Uh huh.

Andy:  And I understand that as the protagonists, we’re supposed to take some hard knocks.  I get that.  But all the same, it doesn’t feel right for us — and by us I especially mean me — to get smacked around for the entire story.

Me:  I see.

Andy:  Give me a turn at the paddle, you know what I mean?

Me:  I mean, I have to disagree with you.  You’re the one who makes an inadvertent call to a muse to set the whole thing in motion.  You’re the one working against a deadline for the whole story.  You’re the one who finally, ultimately, overcomes the whole … well, let’s not spoil it for anybody reading, but the whole series of THINGS, right?

Andy:  You’re not wrong, but… look.  You’re right.  I do things in the story.  No question about that, okay?  But let’s just take a few examples.  I mean, the gangsters jump out and take the rest of us hostage… who bails us out?  It ain’t me.

Me:  No, you’re right.  That was —

Andy:  Then the whole business with Harold and the … erm, how can I say this without uh…

Me:  The theft?

Andy:  Yes, the theft.  He steals a THING.  It’s gone.  He’s gone.  Who finds him so we can continue the story?  It ain’t me.

Me:  I see what you’re saying.  That was the other —

Andy:  And then, finally, we go to the big showdown, yeah?  And Anthony and Julia are running.  They’re about to escape.  But then they get stopped.  By whom?  It ain’t —

Me:  You, yeah, no, you’re right.

Andy:  You see what I mean?

Me:  I think so.

Andy:  Do I have agency, is what I’m driving at.  I mean, pardon the pun, “driving,” but it’s not like I’m driving the story, it’s like I’m along for the ride.

Me:  But those moments you’re talking about, that’s where your supporting characters get a chance to shine, right?  Like, you’re driving the bus through a post-apocalyptic burned out city, right?  And they’re leaning out the windows with RPGs and machine guns shooting off the zombies and blowing up the obstacles in your path.

Andy: Okay, I see that.  That’s a nice image, by the way.

Me:  You liked that?

Andy:  I did.  Sounds like a good idea for a story, actually.

Me:  Yeah?

Andy:  Call it “Murder Bus” or something.  But, to get back on track, honestly, you’re not wrong.  And I see your point.  But I feel like there are moments — and, maybe I’m being selfish here, but I do mean momentS, plural — where, you know, it should be me with the rocket launcher.

Me:  I see.

Andy:  Smeared with the blood and the smoke and the entrails of the enemy, right?

Me:  Entrails?

Andy:  Metaphorical entrails.

Me:  Uh huh.

Andy:  At least one or two moments like that, where I get to shine.  I mean, far be it from me to tell you how to write the story.  And — I can say this, because I’ve lived it, now — I think it’s a pretty good story.

Me:  Thanks.

Andy:  It works out all right for me in the end, after all.

Me:  Hey, spoilers.

Andy:  Oh, come on.  It’s a comedy, it wasn’t going to end with a funeral or anything.

Me:  Or is it?  (We share a conspiratorial look.)  No, it doesn’t end that way.

Andy:  So yeah, it’s a good story.  I just feel like … man, how to say it?  I shouldn’t be a bigger part, exactly. You’ve got me on virtually half the pages.

Me:  Probably more.

Andy:  Probably more, right.  I’m tired, you know?  So not a bigger part, but maybe a more pivotal part.  That’s what I’m looking for.

Me:  Okay.

Andy:  If the story’s a big wagon wheel, I should be the axle it turns on.

Me:  Right, no, that makes sense.

Andy:  Just a suggestion.

Me:  So tell me, what’s it like working with the muse of comedy?

Andy:  Oh, she’s great, you know?  Really, um… what’s the word…

Me:  Funny?

Andy:  I was going to say inspirational, but that would be a little bit cheesy, wouldn’t it?

Me:  A bit on the nose.

Andy:  She’s funny.  Very funny.  A quick suggestion, though?

Me:  Oh, sure?

Andy:  Maybe there’s room in the story for a scene where we, um… (leans over and whispers in my ear)

Me:  (whispering back) It’s not really that kind of book, though.

Andy:  (Shrugs.)  It was worth a try.

Me:  Well, Andy, this has been enlightening, I’ve really enjoyed having you on the blarg.

Andy:  The what?

Me:  The blarg.  It’s a… it’s a kind of a joke.  You know.  Blog.  But then it’s a blog, so it’s kind of… argh.  So.  Blarg.

Andy:  Is that supposed to be funny?

Me:  (sighing) I don’t know.  (Stands.)  It’s been a pleasure.

Andy:  Yeah, likewise.

Me:  I’ll see you in a few weeks when I start the edit.

Andy:  I’ll bring the lube.

Me:  Andrew Remington, everybody!

(Canned applause.  Slow fade.)


The Id-Writer (There Are No Space Unicorns Here… or Are There?)


I know, I know.  Last time I promised Space Unicorns, and here you are, end of a long day perhaps, or settling in for the start of another one, or perhaps sat on the toilet for a bit of reading, looking for the Space Unicorns.

But I just couldn’t.  I wanted to.  I thought about it.  I muddled and marinated for a couple of days, but Space just wouldn’t give me Unicorns.  Today presented me with the first day yet, in almost two full months (is it that long now?  Jesus) when I wasn’t going to make my writing goal.

Wrote about 400 words.  Not feeling the flow.  Squeezed out 100 more like an old man at a urinal.  Painful.  Forced.  Scratched and clawed for 100 more, a dessicated husk of a man dragging himself on his stomach across scorching sands toward a fanciful oasis shimmering in the impossible distance.  Some days, 900 words isn’t nearly enough for me to write what wants to be written.  Today, it was Everest.  So I gave up.

I was kind to myself.  I reminded myself that I’ve been writing extra above and beyond my goal consistently on an almost daily basis, and that I’ve therefore banked enough words to have a day off and still be plenty ahead of schedule.  I let myself remember that it’s been another rough week of testing at school and I’m thoroughly mentally fried to excuse an off day.  I told myself it wouldn’t be that big a deal.  I fooled myself into feeling almost pleased at letting myself off the hook.

But the Id-Writer was not satisfied. Continue reading


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