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The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago

I've been reading a lot of fiction recently to help me develop a more robust and poetic writing style (most recently, Kerouac’s On the Road and Virgil's Aeneid), and I’d thought I’d give a report of my findings as they have both influenced my style.

What struck me most about both Kerouac and Virgil is their heavy use of metaphor, and, also, their unique style with metaphors.

Kerouac uses metaphor just about all the time. Almost every sentence has "metaphorical substitution", which is to say, he doesn’t even mention the real object, he just refers to it by a metaphor (i.e. He calls the "sun" a "cauldron" right off).

Virgil uses metaphor more sparingly, but still at least once per page. He has three styles that stuck out to me: 1. He draws metaphors to personified/anthropomorphized nature (examples of all below), 2. He writes unusually long, detailed metaphors.  3. He uses metaphors to sneak in background/advance the narrative.

Here’s my own example of each:

Original Sentence: The blazing sun beat down on us as we marched on.

Kerouac (metaphorical substitution): The celestial cauldron boiled, overflowing, as we marched on.

Virgil (personification) The angry sun lashed us with her rays, reminding all who was queen, as we marched on.

Virgil (unusually detailed metaphor): Picture a blacksmith slaving before his furnace, sweat dripping from his brow, his face burning like the metal he plies, and still he must beat and batter and bend to his task, so too we marched on under the blazing sun.

Virgil (detailed metaphor, narrative device) Picture Vulcan crafting the very shield which you now carry, toiling hot before his furnace so many years ago, making it impenetrable to all mortal weapon, deflecting both point and blade, so too you marched on under the blazing sun.

The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago
Interesting!

The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago
Indeed!

The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago

Homer does this a lot. The Achaeans get characterized as wolves or sheep, depending on whether they have the gods' favour or not at that particular juncture. I think colourful metaphor is arguably one of the most important parts of the epic poem. 

Also, Gilgamesh straight up uses birth imagery in terms of describing the behaviour of a flooding river, which is pretty interesting considering the relationship between the Sumerians and the massive amounts of aquatic shit they got up to 

The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago
Most of those examples would be pretty garbage purple prose in normal fiction though, unless there was something especially significant plot or character-wise that warranted drawing so much attention to 'it was hot'.

Metaphors can be useful, but it's often a case of less being more. I try not to indulge in them too much unless it's something like setting the mood in a major scene transition, because during 'active' parts of a story, like adjectives and adverbs they can too easily be a crutch to gloss over and avoid actually writing out the things that happen. (Except metaphors are much easier to mishandle and make overblown and ridiculous while the others at worst are just dull and a little annoying.)

Poetry obviously is the exception, metaphors are a pretty key element there.

The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago

I haven't read Kerouac but I can say something about Virgil (prepare yourself for the wall of text, sorry).

As someone who had to study Latin in high school (yes we do that here) I preferred Virgil to other authors, mainly because he wrote fiction instead of focusing on corny love poems, war business or political intrigue. He actually never struck me as having a particularly unique style of metaphors though. 

Detailed metaphors in general have always been preponderant in the ancient days, think of Homer as Malk said, or the use of kennings in Norse mythology. Maybe it's because before inventing complex new words they had to make do with the ones they had to describe something.

Anyways, the thing is this kind of long metaphors were either made to implement the evocative power of the story (Gilgamesh, Homer) for the sake of peasants, or to nudge noble people with cultural references (Virgil, the skalds, also Homer). But those times are long past, as is (hopefully) the need to nudge people so hard with your culture that they fall off the chair. And I assure you that even if I liked Virgil, his metaphors were alright with us modern students only as long as they were very short. Here, let me show you an example from Dante, Virgil's fanboy best buddy without consent:

"As in that season, when the sun least veils
His face that lightens all, what time the fly
Gives way to the shrill gnat, the peasant then,
Upon some cliff reclin'd, beneath him sees
Fire-flies innumerous spangling o'er the vale,
Vineyard or tilth, where his day-labour lies;
With flames so numberless throughout its space
Shone the eighth chasm, apparent, when the depth
Was to my view expos'd. As he, whose wrongs
The bears aveng'd, at its departure saw
Elijah's chariot, when the steeds erect
Rais'd their steep flight for heav'n; his eyes, meanwhile,
Straining pursu'd them, till the flame alone,
Upsoaring like a misty speck, he kenn'd:
E'en thus along the gulf moves every flame" 

(my eyes are bleeding because of the English translation)

This is a (double) simile, not a metaphor, but it was a particularly infamous one during my school days because of its length and detailed references. Dante often took Virgil as inspiration, you (in my opinion) should not.

The metaphors and the style of these old works is beautiful, but they are too far away from us to be taken as a direct model for a new work (be it prose or poem).

All of this was probably unnecessary rambling but meh, I'm bored.

The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago
hnnngh I remember that one. Not a big fan of Dante.


But the reason metaphors were popular was pretty understandable, they were describing fantastical things using common things and references their audience would be familiar with. We still do the same in a lot of ways, just we have more to draw on from a kind of cultural shorthand, and use such things to serve the story and help communicate an idea rather than as a focus. There's also obviously less need to make a passage sound impressive spoken out loud...no one is going to be impressed by an elaborate metaphor so much as annoyed by how distracting that kind of authorial wankery is from what's actually going on in the story.

I'm sure once literacy stops being a thing metaphors and similes will make a comeback in a big way. We'll turn into those aliens from the old TNG episode who only spoke in metaphors, only our greatest poets and historians will just explain everything by spewing carefully memorized memes and tropes.

The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago

Lol that's a wonderful scenario, I remember only one or two TNG episodes from when I was little sadly. 

Regarding Dante, some passages of the Inferno are actually very good, but it's one of those infuriating cases where it's all lost in translation :(

The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago

Kiel when the children gathered.

The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago

Metaphors are for faggots, unless you're writing noir, then you're obligated to use fifty thousand of them.

Or, allow me to phrase this in a more... Poetic way. For the best effect read this in Max Payne's voice.

The thread was the aftermath of a high school dance, barren, the students having long since gone home to embrace the void of dreams. My fingers flew across the sleek typewriter before me as I wrote my reply. "Replacing a word with a frilly substitute is for men who like cocks in their mouths, unless you're spinning a dark tale of intrigue where the good guy doesn't win and you're not too sure who's on his side, in which case you'll be tied down until you've let out fifty thousand of them."

The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago

Not in poetry they aren't. And yes poetry is for faggots, but they usually are talented faggots.

The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago
Commended by mizal on 9/19/2018 4:26:55 PM

I agree with Chris. For an objective third-person narrator, unless something is either really important, or difficult to describe in accessible terms without using metaphor, probably err on the side that isn't purple prose. You can pretty it up later if it really sounds boring without them. Similes and metaphors are best used from the point of view of characters, whether it's in dialogue or first-person narration. It allows them to explain their view of things in a good economy of words, and if you want to extrapolate, you can really give a good idea of how somebody thinks or what they've experienced by the otherwise unrelated imagery they associate with whatever they're talking about.

For example, somebody who makes a lot of violent metaphors to describe everyday things is probably bitter and resentful to be associating struggle or destruction with just their lives. Or maybe they aren't like that. Maybe they tend to struggle a lot for things they want in life, so using a fight as an analogue to describe things in life just comes naturally. Or, if they have a lot of past experience of violence, you can use this kind of talk to show how they probably have a very casual or irreverent view of it. There's a lot of directions you can take this with the power of context and further exploration of the character in general. Though, besides just violence, it could be expanded to all manner of broad topics and tones.

It's a very relatable to develop characters by analogising through their personal lense, and it sounds pretty and smart without having to use words that make you sound pretentious, so it's prevalent as hell in Noir, Pulp, and other things where masculine manly characters are also deeply emotionally aware and express themselves to the reader as things happen. Though, you'll also find it in Romance, Suspense, and Horror novels. The first two is because they're powerful tools for evoking and describing emotions and other abstract things when used correctly, and the third because it's easy to feel like you've painted a vivid image while still making the reader do the work of scaring themselves. And it's also a hallmark of written porn, not least because porn tends to be the genre of amateur writers, and when real writers do it they tend to be poorly practiced at it because who the fuck writes porn for god's sake, but it's also important to the genre because there's only so many different ways an attractive person can appear, you gotta spice things up sometimes with a touch of abstraction and mysticism here and there. It's also prevalent in anything where the narrator is an extraneous character, like in stories with no fourth wall, or a Lemony Snickett story, because let's be honest Lemony is like an extra character in most of his books.

The last prose genre I can think of where metaphors are the order of the day is Bizarro, because bizarro is a purple genre written by people who are either on shroooms and hanging barely onto lucidity, or by people who want to sound like people who are on shrooms and barely hanging onto lucidity. Metaphors come fast and easy to the brain, and you'll find it a lot in their psuedo automatic-writing style. A particular favorite of mine comes early in the pages of Flan by Stephen Tunney, which goes something like this: "[He felt] an icy blue fear that tore the skin off his back and ran over the exposed nerves with ball-bearings."

If I'm being honest, that's probably one of my favorite metaphors I've ever read, and I often strive to make more metaphors like it whenever I get the chance as an exercise. Though for practical purposes I try not to do that so much in my stories just because you need a bit of objectivity to tell what the fuck is going on.

The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago

Thanks for the thoughtful replies. I didn’t realize that detailed metaphors were so prevalent throughout epic poetry. I agree with the unanimous sentiment that the long ones are too cumbersome to use in a storygame (although, I still want to sneak one in somewhere for shits and giggles).

I’ve been mostly mixing in “Kerouac’s” metaphorical substitutions and “Virgil’s” anthropomorphizing to make my prose just a tinge more purply… using it about once or twice per page.

Here’s some snippets:

“Their anxiety is palpable, breathable; infusing your lungs with nervous jitters.”

“For now, you can only wait, wishing the churning in your stomach would flee to some dark corner so you could revel in peace once more.”

“The angry wind turns colder, biting your face.”

And finally, in context:

“Upon cresting the final ridge, the full forest come suddenly into view. You shudder. Even from this distance, the once lush trees seem sickly with decay, dark and foreboding. Relentlessly, this forest has barred you from your kin.

As though cutting through a veil, you cast these shades aside, remembering your quest. I must move forward. I must make progress towards my parents. I must become the Berserker.”

The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago

For narratives, it's probably best to use metaphors (and also similes) sparingly. Use them when they can help create a useful image in someone's mind when a detailed and lengthy description would just slow the pacing down unnecessarily. Ray Brandbuy is usually a good example because he would use metaphors sparingly (but appropriately) in some of his stories. Other times, he didn't seem to know how to edit himself and the page is just dripping with purple! Good examples of how he used it sparingly are short stories like "The Dwarf" and "The Small Assassin".  His novel "Fahrenheit 451," on the other hand, shows when he seriously needed to take a red pen to his own work. The scene at the beginning of the novel when the fireman Guy Montague has just come up from the subway and is walking down the street and is about to meet the teenage girl, Clarice, is about as purple as Prince's entire musical career!

The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago
hush Ray Bradbury is beautiful and perfect and I will not allow this slander

The use of Metaphor by Kerouac and Virgil

one month ago

Don't get me wrong...I LOVE Bradbury. "The Martian Chronicles" is one the of most perfect books about space colonization I ever read. Of course, there is the story where Mr. K wants to murder the astronauts from Earth using his gun that fires electric bees. I was always like...Now are those REAL electric bees, or just  a metaphor for electricity? Or was he using a metaphor instead of a simile to create a kind of tension in the reader?