Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Don't Make Readers Stare at their Brains.
I'm first and foremost a writer, but I've also been working as an editor for a few years. I currently edit for two independent presses and occasionally take on freelance projects. I also do short story acquisitions for a literary magazine.
I've gained a few insights over the past several years; some related to writing, some having to do with character and people skills. For example: What's the best way to tell an author "We need to scrap the whole last third of the book" and make it sound enjoyable. As such, I thought it might be fun and mildly educational to journal on my blog about what I've learned.
I'm of the mind that very few rules are absolute. When it comes to writing though, one has to be careful. There's a fine line between having your own unique style (voice) and well... not having any style at all. Writers will try lots of tricks as they strive to discover their voice.
So, this brings me to my first observation: analogies. They can be beautiful, evoke just the precise image to capture that elusive feeling so that you've gripped the reader's heart and squeezed (gentle or with malice, depending on the author's intent). The other end of the spectrum is that you overreach or overuse -- or do both. You produce agony but not with intention. The inappropriate or misplaced analogy, or one that's simply a poor comparison can indeed induce eye rolls so extreme readers are forced to shake their heads to refocus their vision -- reread with hope of better understanding, eye roll, head shake and groan. This isn't the reaction you want.
My advice is to never use analogies flippantly. The analogy is a powerful tool. Reserve it for intense emotion; moments of emphasis. This includes everything from grief to humor, or even as an element of foreshadowing. But don't overdo it! The idea is to draw the reader into the experience. Readers will feel the apprehension as your character enters that big, old house, because your reader remembers the house is like a siren, tantalizing and dangerous -- ever beckoning, patiently waiting out his resolve until he succumbs and is at her complete mercy and will.
However, if the tree in the yard is like a monster with outstretched arms poised to attack, the upstairs windows are glowing eyes watching his every move, the front door is a mouth, wide and gaping, ready to devour, and the sidewalk leading up to the door is like a frog's tongue, stuck to its prey and pulling it toward its doom, then it's a lot less likely that readers will remember the foreboding feeling of the house being compared to a siren. Mostly their eyes will just be rolled so far back in their heads they'll be staring at their own brain.
Don't make readers stare at their brains.
And now to rid your mind of the ugly image of a brain here's a picture of my dog.