Friday, October 23, 2009

Fiction Friday: Point/Counterpoint

Last week on Fiction Friday, I proposed a simile:

Happiness slid from her face like a fried egg from a Teflon skillet.

I went on to assert:

…the narrator has to be a housewife or a chef, because if, for example, a cop, or a dentist, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company says something like this, it just doesn't work. (Unless he's the CEO of Farberware.)

Doggybloggy, aka Christo, from over at Chez What?, took issue with that statement:

...I have to disagree with you on the Teflon one - I think it works for no matter who you say it about - why does it specifically have to be a cook or a housewife or even more linear someone that works for Teflon?

To which I responded, via email:

The point I was trying to make was more general -- that the metaphors/similes a character uses need to fit the character, and to reinforce it. While it may be an overstatement to say the character needs to be a housewife or a chef, he/she does need to be someone who has fried enough eggs to know that they'll slide off Teflon in a way that they don't off, say, cast iron. A bachelor with a six-pack of beer and an expired jar of mayo as the sole contents of his fridge would not use this metaphor.

To which HE responded:

I think everyone gets it no matter the six pack or the champagne flute - "it was hot enough to fry an egg" do you need to have experienced frying eggs to get it? "his anger equaled the storm" what if you live in a mild climate? The beauty of the metaphor and the simile is that it takes out of your normal pattern of thinking and transports you –

So I said:

I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one. My experience with metaphors that don't match the character's voice is that they pull the reader out of the "willing suspension of disbelief" that's necessary for fiction to work.

But Christo wasn’t willing to let it go at that:

You need to give your readers more credit. I for one would get tired of reading about housewives and pots and pans just so that I can be held in a certain level of 'suspension' its when the harried housewife metaphor gets transferred on to a race car driver that the 'suspension of disbelief' starts to get more visual. Linear thinking is not the willing suspension of disbelief it is the obvious and obvious does not make a good metaphor. Naturally you don’t want your metaphors all over the board - it would be highly unlikely for a rancher to be talking about tulle and chenille but if it is done properly it works better than if he is only talking about cows.

Later, I said:

I've been turning this over in my head since your last email, and you've got a point. It's funny -- one of the number one criticisms folks in my writing group have about my writing is that I'm not subtle enough. The number two criticism is that my metaphors/similes tend to stick out like sore thumbs. In some cases it was because the device was a mismatch for the voice, but now I'm wondering if it also had to do with clumsy implementation. Hmm.

And he said,

For me the real beauty of the metaphor is when it isn’t in the voice you would normally expect, that’s when the reader is truly suspended. Ranchers always talk about cows - housewives always talk about their domestic chores - that is my point.

And a good point it is!

I yield to Christo’s argument.

Last Week's Results:

To keep this from being the looooongest post in the history of blogging, I've selected ONE entry from each entrant.


Happiness was wiped away from his face like last night's stage make-up.

Gender: Male
Age: 20-something
Location: NYC


Like a night burglar who's scared of a bush because he thinks it's a cop. Or, as Will S. puts it: "The night thief doth fear each bush an officer." (Henry VI)

Gender: Male
Age: Mid-twenties
Location: Merry Olde England, circa 1589


Sadness shook the smile from his face like an Emote-a-Sketch.

Gender: Male
Age: Anywhere between 20 and 60
Location: USofA

Sandra Leigh

Her face fell as flat as the first cake - and the first joke - she ever made.

Gender: Female
Age: 20s or 30s
Location: USA


Fear was on me me tighter than a little boys jockstrap.

Gender: Male
Age: 30's or 40's
Location: USA

Steven G

...the light fell away like a lifetime of mistakes.

Gender: Male (mentioned earlier in this sentence)
Age: 20's-70's
Location: USA or Europe

Chef E

Fear seized me like the frog's tongue flying out and taking grasshoppers from the nearby monkey grass.

Gender: Male or Female
Age: Teens through 60's
Location: Anywhere there's monkey grass, which, according to the websites I visited, is practically anywhere.

This Week's Challenge:

Continuing with the theme that metaphors/similes should reinforce the voice of the character or narrator, this week I'd like to try yet another exercise used in my writing class.

Imagine a character. Give him or her a gender, age and hometown.

Got it?

Now have him or her give directions to the nearest convenience store, and do it in a way that will allow the reader to infer his/her demographics without saying any of them directly.


  1. Reminds me of an obscure cartoon made in the 70's "The Point" soundtrack by Harry Nielsson. About the only little round headed kid living in a village of pointy-headed people "You don't have to have a point to have a point". :)

  2. Woo-hoo! I've found the fountain of youth, right here on the internet, and by golly, I'm gonna have me a drink or three. Twenties or thirties, eh? Cool.

  3. Ah, excellent exchange! I see both sides.

  4. I love blogging and all the conversations it makes possible. Thanks for sharing.

    I also like this week's prompt. I give directions like a stereotypical girl (using landmarks) and my husband is a direction/distance kind of man. It's caused us all kinds of confusion.

  5. Okay Teacher- Can I go to the bathroom, and hide out during class :)

  6. The Etch-a-Sketch is one of my favorite toys of all time, and just has a natural humor about it. Shake to erase. If only life were that simple.

  7. Let's see, dear. That would be -- let me think -- oh, yes. The 7/11. I believe that's what it's called. It's in the building that used to be Henry's Hardware Store. Oh, my. I'd almost forgotten about Henry. He was just the sweetest man, and he loved his store. He was there every day, seven days a week. Poor Mabel had to look after everything at home, but she didn't mind a bit. She knew how much Henry loved his work... What was that? Oh. Yes, of course. It's just around the corner, dear. If you walk down the street toward the water until you get to Mrs. Wilson's house -- that's the one with the lovely rose garden -- and then turn left, you'll see Henry's -- I mean the 7/ll, just on your left. Oh, dear. Now what have I done with my glasses?

  8. I really enjoyed the conversation here but unfortunately I am not feeling any creative bones in my body. Some days I just read and have no thoughts. Hopefully I can come back and play with you grownups later.

  9. "Go three bornes til you see Rousseau's farm, then turn towards the old saw mill. Keep going until you hit the forest, then follow the horse trail and you can't miss it!"

    Typical directions from French people who live out in the country around here. Mostly are older -- +60-75.

  10. Who,me? My name's Sarah Mackelhaney and this here's my little brother Joshua. I'm watchin' him t'day.

    What? We ain't got school t'day cause it's Presidents Day.

    We ain't s'pose to be talkin' to no strangers. We gotta go!

    What? Yeah,I know where one is. You just need to keep goin' on this here road 'till it stops, and turn off t' the right and you'll see a big ole Piggly Wiggly there. They sell newspapers and stuff like that there. We gotta go.

    You're welcome. C'mon Josh! Bye.

  11. Ja, es ist in der naehe. How you say? Close by? Eine kleine konditorei, what you call it a sweet-shop. Was sagen sie? Was I in the Krieg? Ja, ich bin sehr alt; ich war Krieger, but only in Wehrmacht. Never, niemals, in SS. Haben-sie verstanden?


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