Adding Metaphors 03/12/21

I was talking to a buddy of mine on the phone, another writer, and we were puzzling over the state of books these days. When I say “these days,” it is not to imply that there was some golden age when all books were awesome. It simply speaks to the unique way in which most books are bad in this particular moment.

He had an interesting theory: that books are intentionally bad. This piqued my conspiracy brain. His rationale was simple: there are so many writers putting out great stuff on small and indie presses. Unique and interesting writers exist in all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds, and they’re not even limited to English-speaking countries. And yet, the representation we get is usually bottom of the barrel bullshit. His thought process was that if you started publishing these actually good writers, you wouldn’t be able to slip as much bullshit in anymore. That means someone famous, or their kid, or someone who you owe a favor to, wouldn’t be able to publish, because everybody couldn’t pretend that these were great books anymore.

Obviously the way things work in reality is much more complex than that, and subjectivity is a thing! Still, I like the metaphor of it. The “myth” aspect that Charles Eisenstein speaks of.

Speaking of metaphor, he had another great insight into what big publishers are looking for these days. He mentioned a post he’d seen on Facebook, years ago, from a successful literary agent. She linked to a “metaphor generator,” and her post simply read “Authors: use this.”

What they’re looking for, it turns out, is at least one metaphor per page. This is an actual rubric that is being used. Meaning it’s some poor developmental editor’s job to go through manuscripts and leave notes like “action here…metaphor?” or “description here…metaphor?”

By way of example, he sent me an excerpt from Chuck Wendig’s book Wanderers. I think this is helpful, but shouldn’t be read as either an endorsement or a dunk on this guy’s writing. He’s successful, and we are grabbing all the tools we might need to carve out the lives we want. These can be integrated rather than enforced. And who knows? It might just help some of us get one step closer to a bigger audience (which, and this is maybe a subject for another post, should be the goal with regards to publishing with a big house, not necessarily the money…I know only a handful of people who have made big boy money from their major debuts).

Here is the example:

Count the metaphors. I analyzed Wendig’s piece of writing closely, and there is, more often than not, at least one per paragraph within the whole excerpt. But he does some other interesting stuff, as well.

He focuses on the specific, in many cases. Sensory detail, authoritative statements on minutiae, and the occasional bit of conversational humor. Overall, it feels like talking to a booksmart friend. And it seems to work!

I’m not suggesting, again, that you somehow alter your entire style to match Wendig’s. That’s impossible to begin with, because you are you, and you have a unique way to approach these things. But as someone who is working on a book that I’ll be sending out to agents (in between writing the books that I plan on releasing independently), I’m taking this note and tacking it up on my wall.

As a final, passing thought: rap music does this, as well.

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