Blog posts tagged in Writing Tips

The metaphor unlocks the meaning

Posted by on in Magnolia City

Is it a butterfly landing on a branch? Or a flower blowing in the breeze? Is it a baboon?  Or an orchid with the face of baboon? Nature is full of these correspondences, and a good writer will dig deep to find the metaphors that lie at the root of his story. Aristotle thought highly of this skill, saying in his Poetics:  “The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor; it is a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an eye for resemblance.”


But exactly what is a metaphor? More than just a figure of speech, a metaphor is a comparison by which the writer uncovers a hitherto-unseen resemblance between two unrelated objects. In her story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Connor describes the mother as having “a face as broad and innocent as a cabbage.” This is a skillful metaphor because a face and a cabbage are entirely different objects, but how brilliantly the comparison illuminates the theme of rural gullibility that drives the story to its tragic climax.

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How to X-ray your novel

Posted by on in Magnolia City

I don’t like applying the word “plot” to novels, unless you think of it in the surveyor’s sense of measuring off a section of land. Then you get into topography, and that’s the real secret of writing riveting fiction. A book that you can’t put down usually takes you on a roller coaster ride up and down a series of dramatic peaks, the tension rising until you reach the Magic Mountain of the climax.

I’m struggling with this territory now as I rework an old draft of the sequel to Magnolia City, called The Tibetan Magic Show. It tells the story of Hetty’s children in the 1960s. I now realize that the problems with this older novel spring from its spineless plot. Youthful posturing instead of good posture. Many novels suffer from a kind of osteoporosis — weak bone structure. They are flabby, and can’t really stand on their own. A skeleton for a novel should look a bit like the Himalaya Mountains, with Everest as the climax.

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What style shall I write in?

Posted by on in Magnolia City

I ran a creative writing workshop for ten years called the Rabbit Hill Writers’ Studio. That’s where my novel Magnolia City was developed. The feedback of other writers is invaluable when you are working on a manuscript. It really helps you self-correct as you go along. Just as you can’t see your own face unless you look into a mirror, so you can’t perceive the “persona” of your own writing unless it’s mirrored back to you by other writers.

One of the questions my students invariably asked me was, “How do I know what style I should write in?” Often their work was derivative as they attempted to copy the expressive content of their favorite authors. They talked about style as if it were something they could go out and purchase, like a set of new clothes. What they didn’t understand is that style is not something that can be added to a piece of work. It is the work.

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