Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tell it slant

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant

Emily Dickinson

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---

Just a reminder to us all that the fiction in fiction is metaphor-- not of the word variety (hope is the thing with feathers) particularly, but still "slant". Fiction is not just the retelling of something that could have happened, but rather a metaphor for truth. There should be a metaphoric "slant" to a story. If you just want to send a message, write a bumper sticker. If you want the reader to experience the process of creating meaning, write a story.

Example: In Hitchcock's Rear Window, the James Stewart character is a photographer. He looks at the world through a camera lens. This is a metaphor for the experience of filmmaking (one of Hitchcock's preoccupations), but also of sexual voyeurism. And as in order to watch his neighbor's sexual encounters, he has to ignore Grace Kelly (in fab de la Renta's dresses!), it's also a metaphor for the fear of commitment. Now of course the "camera lens" isn't just a metaphor-- it's an integral part of the plot (the longer lens lets him see the activities that convince him there's been a murder). But it's the metaphorical aspect that transforms this from just a tale to an actual story.

Think about your own story. What is going to make it more than just a retelling of events? What's the underlying metaphor that connects this to something human or something universal?

I'm thinking about the story I just started. I think that it's not just about the heroine's secrets or the murder, but about choosing to live again after grief. So I should think of a central metaphor that represents that grief. Maybe it's loss-- she loses her purse and loses all her money, and that starts everything going, that loss. I don't know exactly, but I'm going to keep out a watch for some central metaphor which adds that fictional layer.



Riley Murphy said...

Good point. I do try to do this - I like to pull in the underlying connection but the trouble I have with the process is over thinking the ideas. To use your example, (when dealing with grief and loss by mirroring it with the loss of a purse) I would probably have the purse snatched, because when someone close to us dies - I tend to think we deal with this as if they were taken from us somehow. I would be very specific about what was inside the purse and what wasn’t. Say, the heroine is standing somewhere looking through it and she has pulled her wallet and car keys out - I don’t know - placing those essentials on a counter while she continues to dig through looking for whatever - when it’s snatched from her hands. Her old, familiar and well-worn leather purse is gone - with all the things she was used to having with her: like her make-up, her lucky rabbits foot etc...but, thankfully all of her ‘essentials’ remained. She wouldn’t have to replace her driver's license - her credit cards and money (as they were on the counter) and therefore everything that could identify her - remained safe from harm. This, I would think, would mirror the effect of the loss of her loved one. He may have died - so, many things loved and familiar went with him – but everything that is ‘her’ - is still remaining and within her grasp. The idea that she has to replace the old and familiar purse with the new and unfamiliar (cause she still has the money to do this);) is exciting - the forced change is invigorating and even though she has experienced such a loss, she is grateful to be left with something - in this case her very identity that hasn’t been taken...holy crap! Is that over thinking or what? But, maybe the purchase of a new purse and filling it with new things causes her see that change is good (the importance of not having her essential things taken matters to me - I don’t now why maybe because I feel that she needs to start off on this new journey with an identity that she is grateful to have?). So, what am I saying here? The purse is a metaphor for the dead husband? You see what I mean? Reading this back, all that I could think of was - how the location of where she was when the purse was snatched could be relevant, too. As in, if she was in a safe and known environment (like her local mall, a place where she went often so something like this was almost unthinkable) could mirror the shock of her husband’s sudden and unexpected death vs. Being in a neighborhood that she was unfamiliar with - so she was watchful and careful and guarded - but still the crime happened - mirroring her husband’s death by a lingering illness - in that, despite the vigilant care he was given he died anyway.

As always, thanks for making me think. It was a nice break but back to work. (Insert huge UGH! here)...I’m off to find a central metaphor and make me some layers! But um, not too many...:D

Edittorrent said...

Actually, her maid steals the purse-- so I think you're right, that adds that sense of something being snatched away.

Julie Harrington said...

I keep coming back to this post and rereading it because, for some odd reason, I keep thinking there's a difference between the symbol chosen in a story that represents that deeper meaning vs. the metaphor and maybe there isn't. Maybe it's the same thing. Hm. Either way, I do tend to do this in my stories. Usually it's by accident. LOL. I wind up later going through the manuscript and seeing it or someone else will read it and comment about how they like that I used XYZ element/object to tie to the point of the story.

I'm thinking of two specific stories I'm working on. In a way both of them revolve around family -- having it or not, what it really means (blood vs. non-blood), having a place you belong.

In one story the metaphor is built around an animal. In another story it's built around photographs. They appear and repeat on and off through out the story for specific reasons and tie in very closely to the characters journeys.


Anonymous said...

I love metaphor and thematic elements. Sometimes [well, most of the time] they only are identifiable at the end. My subconscious seems to work that way and provides a nice little surprise at the end of the project.

One book has all these anchors, both literal and figurative. It's set in a sea-side suburb, so it makes sense. There is The Anchor Cafe as well as the anchor monument in the town park, and a couple more I can't mention. Then there are the figurative anchors that have been lost: husbands and marriages. The title of the book: Lost Anchors.

My latest WIP is called Starving For Life. It's about a recovering anorexic teenager accused of being involved in a burglary and a subsequent murder of the guard. But come to think of it, there is a whole lot more starving for life going on by several characters in the book, not just the protagonist. So it should be fun spotting them, or inserting them, on the rewrite.

Riley Murphy said...

Having personal items taken by someone who knows you? So much better! It packs more of a punch - and can highlight to the reader - your heroine's need to embrace change, right? Maybe she has been too soft - or she has left herself so vulnerable over her grief that even someone who knows her - thinks that they can take her advantage. Man, you can get lots of layers out of that!:)

Edittorrent said...

Subtext-- what the words and events convey but don't say-- comes into this. Somehow. :)

Anonymous said...

Had an epiphany today. I've been exchanging emails with a friend about endings, and specifically how I felt about the ending for my current project. He suggested I start thinking what the book is really about. As a result of trying out some log lines, it struck me that this book and my previous solo effort have a link that I hadn't realised before. I always had in mind the major themes of missing connections, lies and miscommunication, but I hadn't spotted the fact that a major lie is parentage in both stories.

I'm surprised I had the themes sort of in mind, but completely missed that a major twist in both books that are completely different stories, not a sequel, different countries even, had such a major overlap. Talk about your Alzheimers moment!!

Edittorrent said...

That is a good question-- "what's this book really about?"

I think maybe some themes aren't obvious to us precisely because they're too close to our psyches!