1. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    similes and metaphors that are too unique

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Garball, Jun 25, 2013.

    During the filming of Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock sat with his eyes closed next to a produce laden table. He had his sound man stab the different fruits and veggies with the same knife used in the shower scene until he heard exactly what he believed it would sound like to stab a body – a ten inch chef's knife and a casaba melon.

    In a recent rewrite (posted in the workshop), I tried to imagine what it would sound like for a structural facial transformation akin to a werewolf transformation. Walnuts being cracked in an old man's hand – good bone breaking sound, needs to be wetter for flesh ripping. Pulling the membrane off the underside of a slab of ribs? Good sound, but how many people could imagine this sound.

    Ultimately, I decided on the sound of shucking corn. To me, it had enough qualities of splintering bone and the wetness of tearing flesh. But what about the reader? I come from a place where shucking corn is common and many people could relate the sounds, not the concrete jungles.

    How 'common' should similes and metaphors be? Do you enjoy reading unique comparisons that give the author his voice, or would you rather just get it?
     
  2. Kaidonni
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    Kaidonni Member

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    I'd venture that it depends on the narrative style. There may be a simile or metaphor that suits the style of the story better than what is most familiar to you or your intended audience. There will be people for whom shucking corn is not common, and at the same time these people won't be living in towns or cities. It's a bit like Tolkien's express train reference in The Lord of the Rings - some comparisons can be jarring when they stand out too much against the backdrop of the story, and there's nothing like a train in that book. One might argue that his narrative style wasn't close third person, so he could use a voice that wasn't necessarily any of the characters', but it was still jarring to some people. Many might not consider making such a comparison, although writing styles have changed since Tolkien's time anyway.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm... Shucked corn. I am familier with the sound only too well. I live on three acres of land and I have a goodly plot reserved for the growing of nature's bounty. Shucking does have that satisfyingly wet, turgidly succulent crack, but it's a vegetal reference. I'm going through any number of phrasings where you can make the ref and the veggieness of the corn is negating the visceral nature of the thing it is supposed to represent. :/
     
  4. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    No clue what "shucked corn" is - I don't even know what "shuck" means and spellcheck is redlining it as a non-word lol. Depending on the action associated with shucking corn, you may or may not want to liken it to ripping flesh. Sure, the sound might sound perfect, but if your reader end up imagining farmers and cornfields in the middle of a brutal death scene... that's gonna kinda ruin it somewhat. It's not just the sound you need to think of - you need to think of the image too.

    As for how unique is too unique - I don't think that's a good question. If you write well enough, you'll make yourself understood, and if the metaphor is indeed a fitting one, even if it's unusual the reader should immediately be able to feel it and know what it means.
     
  5. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    I think you answered that question with your first paragraph. You don't know what shucking corn is. WHat I hear in my head is completely alien to you.

    Kind of relevant to my question. I know what sound I am hearing, vegetative or not. However, it does not paint the same picture for you. Instead of an author working in his unique perspective in simile, would it simply be better put, "the sound of ripping flesh and splintering bone," and let the reader make their own 'corn'?
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. In this instance, I agree. Or simply the words that equal the quality you a looking for. The wet pop of bones finding new positions...
     
  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    More important than your reader understanding shucking corn is whether it would be something your mc would
    relate to. If he's not a farm boy or has never walked into a grocery store and shucked corn ( which is quite common in Canada
    they put it next to a big bin and you shuck it at the store, three cobs for a dollar ), than he might not make the association.
    Even if you're not doing deep third pov the comparison still might stand out.
     
  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, but that's what I mean it depends on how well you write it - you'd expand on it wherever you know you're using a specialised term that is uncommon to most people outside of the society that you know.

    In any case, what you said later, with letting the reader make their own "corn" - I also agree with that. The reader's imagination is always far more effective at disturbing and scaring them than you are - you just have to give them the framework, they'll fill it in with the horrible stuff :D
     
  9. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Yes, that's exactly what happened when I was critiquing the OP's piece :) Corn and corn field comes to mind but couldn't hear the sound intended in the simile because I just don't know what shucking means. I just made up an appropriate sound in my mind that suits the action and moved on.
     
  10. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like the walnuts cracking but not in an old man's hand - would he have the strength?
    The membrane might be a bit wordy however but why can't you use two similes/metaphors for two different actions/sounds?
     
  11. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's important to use imagery that is appropriate to the story and its characters, not to the reader. As Kaidonni pointed out, an express train in Lord of the Rings just doesn't work - it pulls the reader out of the story. I'd rather see an image I'm not familiar with - "the dragon's scales slid against each other with the sound of hundreds of elven swords piercing orc armor" - because, even though the image isn't very helpful to me in imagining the immediate sound being described, it is helpful in imagining the whole world; it keeps me in the dream, so to speak.

    Of course, this is merely a convention, a guideline. A daring writer might deliberately mix anachronistic imagery to achieve certain effects - as in the movie A Knight's Tale, with its modern rock soundtrack - but that will likely keep the reader at some distance from the story, not feeling like he's right there in the story, but feeling more like he's observing an interesting installation in an art gallery.
     
  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Goodness it took you a while to get that question out. ;)

    If you are going to use the sound of shucking corn with an audience that is unfamiliar with it, it will only work if they can imagine what that sounds like. I've pulled the leaves off corn and the sound isn't very memorable. I can imagine people sitting on a porch shucking corn on a regular basis would have a different sound memory to call on.

    OTOH, (sticking with your example), if you said something like, "it felt as pleasant as summers on the porch shucking corn with Mom," I wouldn't have to have ever done that to imagine the feeling.

    So the reader has to be able to imagine the simile or metaphor, but doesn't necessarily have to have personal experience with it.


    And what Minstrel said. :)
     
  13. Ann-Russell
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    Ann-Russell Member

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    This is crucial to keep in mind if you don't want the metaphor to pull the reader out of the story.

    I'm cautious of using metaphors. When concrete language gets the point across I stick with that. To me, this is the perfect example. "The sound of ripping flesh and splintering bone" or even "the wet sound of ripping flesh" are stronger to me and give me a more visceral response than the shucking metaphor (though I am familiar with the sound). Plus it has more of an effect on the mood of the piece.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I prefer not to turn my writing into splatter art, through metaphor or through overly graphic description. On the other hand, I'm not writing any bloody shower scen es, much as I do appreciate the bold artistry that is Psycho.

    But the only way I could consider a metaphor too unique is if it is too far outside the experience of the readers. From my days as a chemist, the fragrance of carbon disulfide is very distinctive, but I wouldn't use it to try to convey the smell of some rotting heap. Instead, I would compare the odor to a cabbage that has sat in the vegetable bin too long.
     
  15. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    Shucking may be a bit too country for many readers. I know I haven't done it before, so it wouldn't mean much to me.
     

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