Sunday, May 10, 2015

Writing SF? Editing Out Metaphor

Threads on Repair Job
Sometimes editing is just like preparing to darn a knit. In the same way that it is necessary to choose the colour of threads to use for the needlework repair, it is also necessary to choose the 'colour' of imagery to use in specific genres.

And just like the obvious wrongness of the above threads for that repair job, I've been using figurative phrases of the wrong sort in my SF stories.

I've had three complaints about two different stories. Readers have been finding it difficult to visualise what was happening. Twice I explained the problem away. 

The third time I couldn't ignore it any longer. After some serious study over the weekend of a couple of my How-To sources, I discovered that my weakness for using metaphor is part of the problem, with metaphor being a way to add meaning, by describing something as though it is something else. 

In SF and Fantasy there can be no metaphor until the world is well set up, and readers are completely accustomed to the mode of speech and the organisation of the world. Only then can metaphor be used, and only such that use elements of that world. In other words, no elements from our everyday world. Meeting a 21st century timepiece, aka a watch, in a metaphor set in a medieval fantasy is such a disruption.   

Analogy and simile, that state that one thing is like another thing, are fine to use. 

The story presently under consideration, at about 8000 words, is probably too short to support metaphor at all. I had the sentence: The suit locker was like a disaster zone with eerily empty, broken bodies scattered everywhere.

 Picking the analogy is quite easy: The suit locker was like a disaster zone.

The second part, describing the empty suits: eerily empty broken bodies is guaranteed to confuse.  

The next problematic sentence reads as: It lit a forest of stems, most as thick as an arm or leg, some with the girth of Lank's torso. 

I know that most as thick as an arm or leg is a simile. ...some with the girth of Lank's torso is a metaphor. More than one reader tripped over this. 

Looks like I need to study up on metaphor, go through this and every other manuscript again, re-write plainer, re-write only what can be pictured.

Out in my G+ stream there's a discussion in progress this minute about rewriting. How it is essential, yet also possible to lose the story's soul. Re-writing 'plainer' is not necessarily the way to go. Plain stories leave me cold, if they haven't got a lot of amazing technology and interesting ideas happening. It is yet another balancing act.