A Tree Falls in a Forest; Does the Reader Hear It?

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Once there was a small stream winding through the forest. It wasn’t too small a stream, of course. It ran all year, even in the dry seasons. And, at some points, it did grow smaller -say, when crossing between the narrowing walls of tree roots or over rough patches of mud. Meanwhile, farther along, the small stream widened out to what some geographers would classify as a river. This widening was due to a relief of pressures and an allowed broadening of its capabilities.

No, I do not intend to write you the rest of the story of the stream. There is no literal stream. Obviously, there is also no mud, tree roots, or even geographers.

I brought up waterworks in order to discuss an important literary element: metaphor. We’re hardly selective here, so I’ll include metaphor’s semi-cousin simile and his friend hyperbole, too. In case you ask, however; allegory, parable, and analogy are not invited. Sorry, guys.

I love metaphor. And, I hates it. *Golem!* *Golem!*

That is: when someone is giving a lecture, lesson, or speech and starts metaphoring, my mind goes wonderful places with their relationships. In fact, my mind goes very far afield of where they usually intended and somehow I’ve taken the examples to more interesting locales.

Also, I am very good at giving people on-the-spot comparisons in order to make my point. I told someone I had never met before that her English Cream Golden Retriever was “like when you put brand-new towels into the dryer and pull out a big, fluffy, warm ball of lint and you just want to hug it.”

Yeah… I did. And I wonder why I have few friends.

And, yes, that was simile. Sort-of. I told you they were cousins.

Back to metaphor: this good can also be evil. Besides very obvious over-the-top tropes like characters always speaking in clichés and a poet telling us that each flower in the garden is a dragon, horse, unicorn, etc. to the point that we don’t even know that he was speaking of gardens in the first place–

Too much can be a bad thing.

I also think that metaphor, simile, and hyperbole have a better place in making a conversational point, or in writing poetry, than they do in longer works of fiction.

What say ye? Agreed? Disagreed? Still winding through mud and you’ll get back with me once you hit the valley?

—–

While you’re pondering (or meandering), here’s what went down in the past week:
Wednesday, January 2: “Not Your Average Blogger’s New Year’s Post,” in which we discussed obscure unique talents.
Thursday, January 3: “Skinwalkers, XLVII.” This may have been back-posted. 😉
Friday, January 4: Winner of the Weekly Terribly Poetry Contest. Yay, again, Ruth!
Saturday, January 5: Announced the eighth Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest. ENTER IT.
Sunday, January 6: “When the Stakes Are High,” a flash fiction piece for Carrot Ranch.
Monday, January 7: “Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy-Eight.”
Also, “Toddler Trouble” at my mothering blog.
Tuesday, January 8: Inspirational quote by Pablo Picasso. En español.
I may have had a difficult weekend, and thereafter wrote “Hello Depression, My Old Friend” at The Bipolar Writer Blog.
Wednesday, January 9: You made it to today!

Eric Muhr

39 thoughts on “A Tree Falls in a Forest; Does the Reader Hear It?

  1. I suppose I’m not anti anything in writing so I think they’re all fine as long as they work for me in whatever context they’re used. I was taught ‘no adverbs, cos Stephen King says so’. Balderdash. He uses them anyway. Moderation in all things except chocolate and hyperbole…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am probably more against similes. I can’t remember what it was now but I read something recently which was overloaded with similes. The problem for me was that I was less familiar with the simile than the actual thing being compared, so the simile didn’t do its job.
    This isn’t an example of that read but if I was to read, “the boy chose his clothes like a philosopher solves a dilemma”, I’d have no real idea what that is about. I’d prefer it to say, “the boy chose his clothes with consideration, following a firm set of self-imposed rules” or whatever.
    As a parody, I could see a nightmare piece where each simile is described by a further simile, ad infinitum.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh…. I love metaphors, smilies and even hyperboles!!!! They bring joy into my life!!!! This blog made me so happy!!! Thank you so much! The truth is I LIVE for flowery figurative language. I am literally in love with lyrical poetry and prose!!!!!

    I have to say, the most exciting and fun lessons to teach were those of how to use figurative language correctly. Hyperbole is a so much fun!!!! And similes, especially in poetry, are a thing of beauty!! (Just imagine moi dancing around the room spouting Shakespearean sonnets and hamming it up!) The kids loved it and wrote some hilariously brilliant poetry using fabulous examples of figurative language.

    True, as these writers matured, they learned to narrow down their flowery figurative language skills. But, teaching 4th and fifth graders to use these writing tools is like watching dull, dead winter transform into glorious, colorful spring. It just is!!!!!! Language is just plain and boring without similes and metaphors!!!

    I especially love Victorian writing because of all the metaphors. I THINK metaphorically. For EVERYTHING that happens my brain sees a simile or metaphorical reference. That is just how I roll. Perhaps it is why I have always loved Shakespeare. (Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.)
    And why I had a super crush on Lord Byron in college. (She walks in beauty like the night, of cloudless climes and starry skies.)
    Also, why when I wrote lyrics and performed songs on my guitar while playing in a rock band in the late 60’s, that I gushed with metaphors each time I strummed a chord. Figurative language IS musical. It is love itself. And it can be written, or sung, and poetically spouted at a slam. It is an expressive art form that has endured through the centuries. The fact is, Figurative language is what makes writing sexy!!
    And I’m a sucker for romance (odd coming from a twice divorced woman, but I am.) And therefore I am in love with romantic language. And what is more passionate and idealized than similes and metaphors? In fact after reading this blog post I have a sudden desire to reread my favorite sonnet. II6
    “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds…
    Thanks for this inspiration today!! Bravo!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Ha! Actually I changed and shortened it several times and the last response I sent was much better. Lord knows you might be getting a barrage of ten different versions as I tried to figure out what lines were banned. Lol. I sent you a totally different version this morning because I had to rewrite my thoughts from memory and it was much better.
        But, my point was that figurative language is essential to learning how to become a good writer. Once you’ve mastered it you have to use it like a fine dessert. Only in moderation.
        I don’t know how you got this version… it’s a chopped up one when I was frustrated. Oh well. I still don’t know what happened with WordPress. Weird, right?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. 1) I have been wondering for a while why I never see your posts on my reader, and I found out (embarrassingly…) that I hadn’t clicked follow. You may now call me a slanderous toad if desired. 😦

    2) Metaphors can go WAY too far. I recently watched the Studio Ghibli collaborated film “The Red Turtle,” which is supposed to be a metaphor, and thought it was too far gone. You’re right that people can get put off by it if we’re not careful!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: What Do You Do All Day? – I Didn't Want to Be a Mother

  6. Yeah, me again – finally catching up on things a little.

    I also agree with this. It can be overdone – I’ve read stories that seem to string metaphors and their kin into almost every paragraph. That begins to get tedious. And the other problem is that too many go for the cliches. ‘Her eyes sparkled like diamonds.’ They need to get a little more creative. I tend to think that the metaphors, et.al. should come from who the person is. A big sports fan? Use sports metaphors. A consummate knitter, use related metaphors. While your big wad of fluffy, huggable lint was an unusual choice, at least it was creative. You related it to something you knew instead of merely saying the dog was ‘soft a bunny’.

    Liked by 1 person

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