The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 170
My grandfather always seemed old. That’s normal, right, for a little child? When I would sit on his lap, and he would tell me a story of the past, his face grizzled, his breath a mixture of pipe smoke and an afternoon “pick me up,” he seemed ancient. In truth he was probably younger than I am now, maybe sixty, possibly sixty-five.
He died by the time I was ten. I remember him always slipping me a quarter after our talks. He really didn’t have to. I would have sat and listened to his stories for free, stories about the Great Depression, life on the corn farm, working in factories, dust storms, the God-blasted fickle weather, eating snake and squirrel, a lifetime of experiences that seemed so foreign to me then, almost unbelievable.
He was a wonderful storyteller. I come from a family of storytellers, and perhaps it was their influence that led me to being a storyteller. I really don’t know.
I’m just glad it all worked out that way.
Enough nostalgia . . . let’s get to the mail.
Quieting the Inner Beasts
From Eric: “And so in my meandering way I ask another foolish question. Do you write away your issues? I must have 100 sermons that are not published but written to get me through an issue. Do you sometimes write just for your inner deal? And I listen to "The House of the Rising Sun" one of the finest organ riffs ever. We are at our best sometimes when we are Animals.”
I’ll do you one better on the organ riffs, Eric: Lee Michaels playing “Stormy Monday” on the organ. Check it out on YouTube if you get a chance.
As for your question . . . all the time! My stories are all about the struggle to be human. I’m always listening to my inner demons and arguing with them in the form of a story.
“The House of the Rising Sun” is a great example to use. Talk about a look at the dark side of human nature . . . “and it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy, in God, I know, I’m one.” I can relate, and if people are being totally honest with themselves, they can relate as well . . . not necessarily about frequenting a whore house, but certainly about the constant battle of Good vs Evil which goes on in each of us.
And I’ll tell you a secret, Eric: I doubt I would be the writer I am if I hadn’t visited my own personal “House of the Rising Sun.”
I’ve seen hell and I’m in no hurry to return to it. But I’m more than willing to write about it.
Great question, buddy!
Analogies, Similes, and Metaphors
From Linda: “Bill - I know that you've covered this in earlier mailbags, but some of us are slow learners. Analogies, similes, metaphors--how are they different? When to use them? How to best use them? Do you have a preference and if so, why?”
Linda, this question may take up the rest of the Mailbag, but it’s a good question which benefits all writers, so let’s get to it.
An analogy is the comparison of two things using their similarities as the focal point i.e. the heart and a pump.
A simile is a comparison of two unlike things also, but with a simile the words “like” or “as” are used i.e. she had cheeks like roses.
A metaphor is also a comparison of two different things to provide clarity, but unlike a simile, the words “like” or “as” are not used i.e. the world’s a stage.
How are they different? Truthfully there is very little difference in them unless you really want to be nitpicky, and I don’t. The main point to understand about them is they are all three used for clarification.
When to use them? Use them when you want to make a particularly strong point, or paint a particularly vivid picture. Like any tool of the English language, though, they can be overused, and if overused they become a distraction more than a clarification . . . so use sparingly.
And no, Linda, I really don’t have a preference. I think all three are wonderful tools, and I think all writers should practice using them, but it’s a personal preference when and how often. I love using them. I give myself a pat on the back every single time I use one in a book. I’m so proud of myself when it turns out good.
But I try to limit their use.
From Shallow: “Congratulations on your Hubbie Award. I’m new to HP and not quite certain what that award means, but congratulations nonetheless. Since I’m new, I was wondering if you had any words of advice as I start out on HP?”
Oh, Shallow, I’m full of advice. Some of it is actually useful. It’s your job to figure out what is useful and what are the ramblings of an old man. J
Here’s my first word of advice: if you are at HP to make money, you might want to stop wasting time and go into freelance writing instead. You’ll make more money quicker that way.
If, however, you are on this site to become part of a community then congratulations on making a wise choice; my only words of advice in that case is to become an active member of the community. Visit the sites of other writers. Comment on their articles and be sincere in those comments.
I think HP has great value as a supportive community.
I think it’s a joke as a passive-income site.
What do the Hubbies mean? To me they mean acceptance and a certain amount of validity. Sure, they are somewhat of a popularity contest. I get that. But you don’t win that popularity contest without the respect of your peers, and you don’t win if you are a terrible writer. You gotta have game or you aren’t winning anything and you aren’t making any money.
So learn your craft, become an active member, and one day you might win a coffee mug. LOL
Sincerely, thank you to those who voted for me. You have my heart!
From Robert: “I was watching the PBS series on Vietnam by Ken Burns, and I was so impressed by the, I guess you would call it, screenwriting for that series. It was powerful and I wonder if I could teach myself how to do screenwriting. What advice can you give on it?”
Robert, it was powerful for sure. I was reading a couple articles about that project the other day. Evidently some vets are upset about it, saying it wasn’t totally accurate, and some South Vietnamese vets said there wasn’t enough attention given to them in the film. I’m not here to discuss historical accuracy. I’m simply saying it was powerful storytelling.
I’ve never done any screenwriting. I wouldn’t even know how to begin. I wouldn’t know what to tell you. I know zero about it.
If, however, I wanted to learn, I would probably go to the library and find the best book on the subject I could find. Then I’d read that and find another after that. I would watch videos by successful screenwriters and really hear their message. There are courses to take, online and in person. And on and on we go!
Best wishes to you! If I were younger I’d probably join you on that quest.
Robert reminded me of something I was thinking about while watching Ken Burns’ series.
I was listening to the firsthand accounts of that war, from the men who were there, and tears were in my eyes. They were telling history, of course, but they were telling history as storytellers. Their emotions, still raw after all these years, came to the surface as they told their stories. It was impossible for me to watch that series without crying, so powerful were their reactions while telling their stories.
Their storytelling brought me to tears!
That’s what we, as writers, are called on to do . . . make a connection, an emotional connection . . . with our audience.
Remember that the next time you sit down to write.
And a sincere thanks, once again, to anyone who voted for me in the Hubbies. I am humbled by your votes.
2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”