This struck me as a strange blog post. You might have to read the whole thing to understand my response. It says:

In my worlds, metaphors have to be consistent with the worldview of a character.

Then I wrote a story (out on submission now) where a metaphor got a little out of hand – in a cool way.

I suppose you could think about it like a piece of art that has the same color in multiple places across the composition. It’s almost like hiding a beautiful pattern in the story for the reader to find if they’d like – not letting it be the whole point, or letting it take away from the main conflict, but picking something that will play into the main conflict and allow the different parts of the story to link together. Even if a reader isn’t consciously aware of it, their subconscious probably will be on some level, allowing it to contribute to the “feel” of the story.

Um … yeah … um … how is that “literary” as opposed to “science fiction and fantasy”? (I don’t understand why the word “literary” is used to describe a separate genre of writing, as if all writing wasn’t “literary” but that’s a different issue. I don’t cringe at the word “literary” but I do cringe at it’s sometimes strange use.) All metaphors should add to the mood and tone of the story and the worldview of the characters. That’s the point of metaphors! That’s not a device borrowed from “literary fiction.” Similarly, using “extended metaphors” or motifs or recurring themes or irony or any other literary device does not mean that these devices come from “literary fiction” just because some writer doesn’t see them often in his pile of pulp sci-fi stories. The notion that use of this “literary stuff” should be surprising, or would be considered to be mainly from the realm of “literary fiction” just strikes me as rather silly.

In films, there are quite a few storytelling choices that can (and should) be utilized to help tell the story: for example, there’s the music (use of silence, use of rhythm, use of harmony and melodic themes), there’s the sound (what we hear and how loudly we hear it), there’s the cinematography (how characters and settings are positioned in a frame, how much space they take up, where they’re looking in relation to the camera, how the camera moves), there’s the editing (how and when cuts are made), there’s the color, lighting, costumes, acting choices, etc. It all adds to the clarity of the emotion the director is trying to communicate.

A writer doesn’t have so many elements to worry about, but it’s still all about (at least on its most basic level) communicating emotion. A good writer of any genre will use every element he knows to effectively communicate the emotions he’s after. (Though that effectiveness will still be subjective, of course.)

Secondly, the blogger writes:

And I’m realizing that while we may not intend to give things extra meaning, a lot of times those meanings sneak in anyway.

In a sense, yes. I think all artists naturally tend to work at least hints of their life philosophies and interests into all their artwork. But I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that “meaning” can be added without intent. If you didn’t intend it, then it’s not meaning, at least not on your part. It might be a pattern, but it’s not meaning. That doesn’t mean that the audience can’t get meaning out of it. Just because I find meaning in a piece of art doesn’t mean that the artist put it there, consciously or subconsciously. This is because meaning doesn’t come from artwork. Meaning is inferred by the pattern-finding mind of an audience member. If we wish to communicate ideas to each other, such as directions to the nearest gas station, we must use a language we both have already established patterns for in our brains (that is, we both speak the language). You do not inject meaning into sentences; rather you order the words in a feedback loop, so that the meaning you intend to communicate is reflected in the words and order you choose. The listener can not know your intent; he has to guess it based on the words and order you chose using the pattern-knowledge he already has.

It’s really not that difficult of a concept, but most people don’t seem to think like that. Most people seem to think meaning is injected into artwork and then extracted by smart-enough audience members. But then what if people disagree on the meanings they extract? Either one of them is wrong (or both are), or the artist can be said to magically inject beauty and meaning without intending to. I don’t understand how anyone can honestly accept this notion.

Anyway, that’s a complete digression…

Let’s see, new novel, new novel. What’s it about? A guy who loses everything, but finds his soul in Canada. Alright, cooking now. And the whole book is an e-mail to his daughter who’s dead. And his name will be Norm Hull, ’cause he’s just a normal guy. But not everybody will get that. That’s just for the scholars a hundred years from now.” ~Brian on Family Guy


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