Figurative Language and First Drafts

I love:  figurative language.

It’s fun!

The most familiar forms are simile and metaphor.   A simile is a comparison between two different things using “like” or “as.”


 Fred groaned.  They all looked at the flat tire, which spread out beneath the Mystery Machine like a pat of melted butter. 

 A tire is nothing like butter, but it kind of is when it’s flat.   This gives the reader a distinct picture of the tire smooshing out on the pavement under the car.  Or maybe it doesn’t.  Give me a break, I had a three-hour screening interview today and my brain is fried.

Here’s another one:

 Joker’s unexpected blow takes a poisoned Batman down as easily as a baby knocks over a tower of blocks.

 Normally Joker couldn’t make Batman flinch, but if he poisoned him…well, the baby itself might be able to knock him down.

A metaphor implies that one thing is the other. The tenor is the object of the metaphor, and the vehicle is the thing it’s implied as being.  Generally the two things have something in common.


 Deep in the closet, Buffy heard the door handle turn, and her heart became an electrified frog in her chest.  She clutched Mr. Pointy.  

 We know Buffy’s heart really isn’t a frog, but an electrified frog will jump and quiver the same way your heart would if someone were coming into the place you were hiding.


Just the same as a major organ, only different.

Image: Photography by BJWOK /

The bigger the gap, the stronger the metaphor, although two that have nothing to do with one another can result in a mixed metaphor.  These are unfortunate clunkers that are best avoided.

I’ll paraphrase one I found online:

 Hector has a lot of black sheep in his closet

 No no no no no.  You have skeletons in your closet.  And you have black sheep in your family.  Both of these refer to things a person might be ashamed of.  Put the two together like that, and it sounds like Hector has a rather unsavory hobby.  Come to think of it, that one might actually work!

In literature, you can find a more extended metaphor known as allegory, in which a person or object in the narrative is representative of something outside it, such as a theme or idea.   The object can be a personification of an ideal or moral.  George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a very famous example of allegory, where the animals represent Stalin’s regime prior to the second World War.



Some people love them. They hate editing because it’s so fiddly.  No, I hate the first draft.  If I know what is going to happen, it’s sometimes easier, but other times it’s like pulling hens’ teeth.  See? My similes are showing!

Rose’s Hostage practically wrote itself.  It ended at 116,000 words, roughly.  During the first rewrite, it ballooned (is that a metaphor?) to 125,000, a number only Tolkien could get away with.  It took five or six more edits to get it back down to 97,000.

It was probably easier to do because I had already written it in another, unpublishable iteration.  Few have read that one and that is the way I like it.

My current WIP, which I will hereafter refer to as Oh God I’m So Stuck, or just Stuck, has a beginning, a middle and an end.  I already wrote the last four paragraphs and a bunch of skip-around scenes.

I know what happens.  I know all the characters.  The entire story is in my head, but it’s not straining to get out the way RH did.  It’s awfully hard to concentrate when you’re job-hunting and the Pocket Bike from Hell is revving across the street.

Shut up, kid. Shut up, up, up.

Image: geludead/stock.xchg

Editing and…Editing

Sewing Tip #742: When sitting on the floor cutting out a pattern, if you are listening to your iPod make sure the headphone cord is out of the way first.

Oops. Good thing they weren't my good headphones.

Now that my Stupid and Amusing Mistake of the Day is out of the way, on to letter E!

I love:  editing.

Many writers don’t like editing.  My least favorite thing to do is first drafts, even if I’m smoking hot and can’t type fast enough to keep pace with my brain.  It can be a wild ride, and even fun.

But no one writes a perfect first draft, and if they say they do they’re lying.   Editing is when the manuscript takes shape.  A good novel edit takes nearly as long as writing the book.

There are several steps to editing.  I’m going to tell you how I do it.  Another writer may have a completely different approach.  This is what works for me.

Sit on it for a while

I usually can only wait about a week before I get back to it.  But I have to step away, if only to clear my head of something that has dominated my thoughts for weeks or months.  Letting it rest means when I do look at it again, I can gain some distance.

Print it out

First draft edit is ALWAYS on paper.  I put it in a 3-ring binder.  It’s a broad edit, going through looking for loose ends, inconsistencies, etc.  They get marked with sticky flags and notated in the margins. These are corrected in the electronic version.

This is where big cuts start taking place also.  I usually save a copy of my first draft as a separate file, in case there is something in there I want to reuse at a later date.  I have a cut file for the same reason.

Pass it on

After three or four printed edits (yes, I recycle all my manuscripts at the local paper mill), I put it in the hands of a reader or two.  Choosing them is an art and a science in and of itself.   I want someone who will be kind, but also know when to point out clunkers, errors, typos and anything just plain stupid.

Several rounds later, I feel confident my manuscript is ready for submittal.  I spent a huge amount of time on Rose’s Hostage because I’ve been learning about standard industry formatting and other nitpicky things.  Now I can start a manuscript in that format and not worry about fixing it later.

Hopefully, it’s good enough to get some attention.   If not, it goes in the fabled writer’s trunk, until I’m as famous as Stephen King and can publish my grocery lists.  Ha!

The Master. Dear God, I want to meet this man. Kthxbai.

Press Photo
Credit: Amy Guip © 2006


I hate:  Editing.  When I give my work to someone after hours of polishing and they immediately see a mistake, then I have to start all over.  Gah!

Anne Mini always says before you ever consider sending in any work to anyone, print out your manuscript and read it ON PAPER, OUT LOUD.   It’s much easier to catch mistakes that way.

And it’s true.  My last edit of Rose’s Hostage was on computer and I gave a .pdf to Egon and he found two mistakes right off the bat.  D’oh!

Whether you’re a writer or a student who produces papers, if you have any editing tips feel free to share in the comments.  We all can use a fresh perspective.


Daring and Denoument

I love: to be daring.

When I write, I can do things I would never do in real life.  Some of them are not so pleasant.  In Rose’s Hostage, I committed a couple of murders.

How does it feel to do these things on paper?  Strange.  I know sometimes people get confused and think writers really do the things they write about.  “Write what you know” doesn’t cover those who are professional liars, however!

No, I never killed anyone, although if those kids across the street don’t stop revving that pocket bike back and forth, I might.  Now get off my lawn!

You behave, youngster, or I’ll sic my granny on you.

Image: Ambro /

Daring also happens when I write about controversial subjects or something really out there.  That’s one reason I like horror fiction.  Some of the most twisted scenes I’ve ever read (and enjoyed, heh heh) happen in this genre.  Sometimes I have to say something no matter what the risk, but usually I try to consider my audience.

It’s funny, but I’ve also noticed there is more sex in horror and less in other mainstream genres, like thrillers.   Let’s say you have a hero and heroine running around hiding from some crazed conspiracy and they end up going to ground for a while, thinking each moment could be their last, and they obviously find each other attractive.  And they do NOTHING?!?  In real life there would be some serious boinking.

My characters will occasionally boink.  They’ll go to the bathroom, too.  If you don’t like it, read something else.  I’m not taking it out because someone else thinks it’s too daring.


I hate:  denoument (day-noo-mah).

This is the falling action after the climax of a piece. It’s hard to write it unless you have cliffhanger stuff going at the end.  Anyone who remembers watching Scooby Doo cartoons as a child will remember the lame jokes that come after the ghost/monster/creature is finally captured and unmasked.   This is how I feel writing denoument scenes, like I’m trying to finish a Scooby episode.

It also annoys me because it’s not always obvious where to stop.  And some types of stories have clearer ends.   In a crime novel, for example, the cell door clangs shut and it’s over, or the bodies are carted away.  A literary story or a character piece is a bit harder.    I think my difficulty with denouments will fade with time and experience.  After all, the best way to learn to write is to do it.

Convenience and Censorship

I love:  Convenience.

I can write anytime, anywhere, if I have my computer and a few minutes to myself.  At Exjob, I used to write at lunch.  Of course, this meant lugging my computer back and forth each day.  My big Vista laptop was heavy.   I’ve since gotten a smaller machine that, while still giving me full-size functionality, travels much better.

It is better! Stronger! Faster!  

If I don’t have a computer handy, I can still write.  As a kid, I wrote constantly, in a notebook with a regular ballpoint pen.   I didn’t like pencils because they wore down, and it wasn’t always convenient to sharpen them.  Usually all I had was the notebook, with the pen stuck in the spirals.

Now I carry a little diary in my usually-oversized purse, in which I may note useable items for later inclusion in some project or other.  It also serves as a repository for passing thoughts or observations.

I skimped on this, because the hate part is more important today.


I hate: censorship.

I really, really hate it.

The American Library Association celebrates Banned Books Week each year to enlighten people about the evils of censorship.  Read about the topic in this Wikipedia entry.  Although it covers most types, I’m mostly concerned with attempts to block free expression of ideas and concepts, particularly in literature.

There are two reasons this bugs me.  First, it hinders study of materials that may be objectionable, but are valuable in learning about cultures, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, history, literature, and art.

Regardless of a regime’s attempts to suppress information, it gets out somehow.  Either there are subversive publications, or eventually something is overlooked and the information is found in the ruins.

Second, it forces viewpoints on people who may not share them.

As I type this, a commercial for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando just played on the TV.   (Yes I’m going.  No, I don’t know when but I’m going.)  In 2006, a woman in Georgia tried to get the Harry Potter books banned in her children’s school district, on the grounds that it promoted the Wiccan religion and tried to teach kids witchcraft.  She never actually read the books.  I will not dignify her by repeating her name—I’ll just call her Sourpuss.

If she was here, and I thought she’d listen, I’d like to point out a few things.

If you don’t read the material in question, you cannot form an educated opinion on it.

Sourpuss’ campaign against the Harry Potter series lost credibility because she had no idea what the books were even about.  She had no understanding of theme, character motivation or context, which she would have had if she read them.

I’m not saying she had to, but an intelligent person who is wondering if something may be objectionable would most likely check it out.  There is simply no other way to know for certain.

It reminded me of the flap over the film version of The Last Temptation of Christ, which included a scene where Jesus makes love to his wife.  Protesters seized on this as a sacrilege. Of course, as I tend to do exactly the opposite of what people say I should, it made me wild to see it.

The film and the book it’s from are about the duality of Christ’s divinity and his humanity.  The scene in question takes place while he is dying on the cross, visualizing the ordinary human life he could have had were he not the Son of God.  This includes a childhood, marriage (with sex), a family, and finally an ordinary death in bed like a normal person.

Context is fun!

Just because you believe something doesn’t mean that I can, do, and should believe it also. 

By insisting that no one should read a book she objected to, Sourpuss was pushing her beliefs on everyone else.  If she didn’t want her kids to read it, and it were being taught in class, perhaps an alternative could have been set up so they could still get credit for an assignment.

I would probably appreciate someone pointing out a bad influence on my kids (if I had any).  But it’s up to me to decide if intervention is warranted.

Let’s also suppose I and my family were Wiccan.  I could argue that she was defaming my religion.  If you know anything about Wicca, which obviously Sourpuss does not, it is not in any way black magic or evil.

So I ask, why is the religion or belief of the person attempting to censor more important than mine?  And what if the document she was attempting to remove was actually historical in nature?   Suppose Sourpuss was a neo-Nazi and she was objecting to a class reading The Diary of Anne Frank?

Force is not the way to convince anyone of anything.  

Making people do things your way only fosters resentment.  People don’t like to be told what they should or should not do.

If you truly have an objection to certain materials, try to do these four things:

  • Learn more about it.  Your impression of the material may be completely off-base, especially if it’s based on something someone else told you.
  • Use reliable sources to back up your arguments.  Don’t go into a school board meeting shrilling something you got off
  • Realize that the world does not revolve around you and your opinion.  There are others who may enjoy the book you dislike.  Your rights don’t trump theirs.
  • Try to seek alternatives and work them out with the people involved.  Perhaps there are better ways to satisfy everyone’s concerns, but you’ll never know if you go charging in.

If you can’t change people’s minds, perhaps it’s better to simply let it go.  I’ve always believed we have brains for a reason, so we can figure things out on our own.

Please, if you feel inclined to comment on this issue, see the Terms and Conditions.  I will be monitoring this post and will delete any comments that are disrespectful.  Thank you.




Becoming and Blocking



I love:  becoming.

Through writing, I can become other characters in situations I would never experience in real life.  Perhaps this is why fanfiction is so pervasive.  We long to enter those existing universes, whether Dagobah, Gotham or Sunnydale, and live vicarious adventures along with Luke Skywalker, Batman and Buffy Summers.

Inventing my own worlds is even more satisfying, because I don’t have to follow someone else’s rules.  With a police procedural there are certain realities I can’t escape even using dramatic license.  But my current WIP has a supernatural element where anything is possible.  Fantasists should know all about this.

My theatrical experience makes me more likely to approach a character the way an actor would, by thinking about motivation, gestures, etc.  I’m still learning how to incorporate these traits into a story in a meaningful way.

I’ll even rehearse dialogue, speaking it as I wash dishes or clean house, if I have a particularly sticky exchange to work out.  People don’t talk in books the way they do in real life.  Writers should leave out all the ums and you knows.   Reading/speaking your dialogue helps you make sure it conveys the right information and doesn’t sound stilted.

So maybe in real life, I’ll never run away from the cops, or fly on gossamer wings, or save Batman from the Joker (or Joker from the Batman!).  So what?  I can do it in my stories.  Anytime, anywhere.


I hate:  blocking.

Mostly used in stage plays, blocking is establishing movement and spatial proximity of characters.  Who stands where, where do they move?  Can Bob hear Margaret from downstairs?

Let’s say you’re writing a book and you have a scene going on inside a house with multiple people moving around at the same time, such as a party or emergency.  You need to establish where they are in space.  If the scene has no dialogue, like a fight, it’s even more important.

I found when writing a pivotal sequence in Rose’s Hostage that people could not do what I had pictured because the inside of the house looked waaaaaay different in my head than it would have in real life.  Like this:

Drawing by Elizabeth West

The red X’s are stationary people.  Blue is Libby, purple is Joshua.  They had to come from upstairs, which isn’t even in this drawing!

This is only a fraction of what goes on in that sequence, and it’s toward the end.  I had to move people around so they couldn’t see or hear each other at certain moments.  It helped that it’s an older house with narrow doorways.

But the real-life layout severely restricted the characters’ movements, while in my head they had a room the size of a gymnasium. I feel for stage managers and directors.  I’ve done this theatrically and it SUCKS.  I’m damn good at it, though, I must say.  That doesn’t mean I like it.

I recommend making a diagram like this if you can.  It’s much easier to block the action.

Antagonists and Adjectives



I love:  Antagonists.

Commonly known as villains, antagonists are experts at getting in the hero’s way.  They’re much more interesting than protagonists.  Through antagonists, a writer can live out his/her evil side.   Planning and plotting Anty’s nefarious schemes is the best part.

What makes a great antagonist?

First, he has to have motivation. Just being evil isn’t enough.  We all know at least one psychopath, and some of the things they do may seem random.  There is always something behind it, however.

Maybe you shouldn’t have laughed at his unfortunate fashion choices.

Image: Boaz Yiftach /

The best antagonists have a reason for what they do.  It could be as broad as Dr. Doom’s thirst for world domination, or as simple as the penmanship medal dear little Rhoda so desperately wants.

And Anty must believe, with all his twisted, rotten heart, that his actions are necessary. This lends depth to the character.  It gives him conviction.  People are complicated and Anty should be no exception.  If he doesn’t care, neither will the reader.

Second, the reasons have to make sense.  Rhoda, a child, would hardly dream of controlling the world.  Nor would an adult Joker be happy merely pushing a kid off a wharf to get a class prize he failed to achieve.

Well, he might.  You never know with Joker.

Finally, Anty should be capable of carrying out his plans.  Mason Verger in Thomas Harris’ Hannibal is completely paralyzed, but he still manages to orchestrate a plot to kidnap and kill Hannibal Lecter that takes place across two continents.  How?  He’s insanely rich and can hire people to do all the work for him.  If he were flat broke in a state hospital in Sheboygan, I doubt he’d have the resources.

I wish you could read Rose’s Hostage.  I would so like you to meet Dale Conroy.  I know it’s time to move on to the next villain, but he’s so awful you just love to hate him.

I plan to try some small presses.  Maybe I can get on with one of them.  If not, maybe I’ll just make a damn e-book and sell it here already.  I’m already having fun with my next antagonist.  Who?  Sorry, if I told you I’d have to kill you.   Heh heh heh.


I hate:  Adjectives.

I don’t actually hate them; what I hate is lazy writing that makes use of them rather than taking time to make better word choices.  Especially when they come in strings.  And I tend to do this in first drafts, although luckily I can take them out later.  But this is harrrrrrrrrdd.


Joker’s skintight purple gloves touched her hot, feverish, rosy cheek, where the glistening moisture of salty, frightened tears still lingered. 


How about this?

His glove touched her feverish cheek, which glistened with frightened tears.

We already know Joker wears purple gloves.  Hot and rosy aren’t needed, because we know feverish cheeks are hot and rosy.  Ditto with saltyFrightened may or may not stay, depending on the point of view and what happened right before.

Or this:

His glove traced the path of frightened tears down one feverish cheek.

I like that one much better.   You need a few adjectives to describe things, but don’t depend on them too much.