Your most useful, multi-purpose writing tool is……

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A computer ? A dictionary ? A pair of compasses ? No- they come later.

The most useful writing tool in the world is…….metaphor.

Believe it.

It might be a good idea to set the table first, before we begin the meal. This is what Wikipedia has to say:

“A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes a subject by asserting that it is, on some point of comparison, the same as another otherwise unrelated object. Metaphor is a type of analogy.”

You compare A with B. They are very different, yet they have something in common. By comparing them you are saying something about A, something about B, and something about the collision which has just occurred. You’ve just made three things out of two. That’s poetic fission. And it’s just happened in your brain.

It doesn’t always work though. Some metaphors are dud from the start; others lose their punch and hang around at the end of sentences, like tramps looking for a handout. Politicians are particularly guilty in this regard, perhaps because they use second hand language. They assume that the electorate is stupid, and can’t be challenged. So they talk of ” level playing fields” when they mean equal opportunity; they promise that a new policy will be ” rolled out across the country” as though an idea is some kind of giant panjandrum which will rumble out of its hangar. And ” resilient” – I hate “resilient” almost as much as I hate “robust.” Both words have a muscular physicality about them which can’t be translated into the realm of abstract ideas. It doesn’t work, guys !

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there.

Meanwhile, back at my train of argument..the explosion, the poetic fission which has just happened in your head goes down on paper. If you’re a good writer, you leave it there for a few days. In the dark. To mature. And then you take it out again and taste it. Does it still leave a thrilling tingle on your tongue ? If it doesn’t, then it goes down the waste disposal. If it does, then it stays.

And then someone reads it…and it sets off another chain reaction in the reader’s head, which is the same as, and yet strangely different from the effect it had on you. And so it goes….

Human experience, the never-ending film that runs inside your head, is held together with…metaphor.

Enough for now. The compasses ? You’ll see their relevance in the next post.

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5 thoughts on “Your most useful, multi-purpose writing tool is……

  1. Jack, an interesting line of thought. In linguistics the relationship in metaphor of one thing to another is called the analogical pretext. If you say the windows are eyues of a house the pretext is very strong. But is you say the windows of a house are mountains, the pretext is less strong but the interest is more. Just wanted to stick my two cents in–no pretext at all– I love metaphor and will always out a good suimile for one anyday. >KB

    • It’s such a simple linguistic trick and yet it has so much power…..so many reverberations. Many thanks, as always, for your comment.

      This is the first of three linked posts, by the way.

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