17 January 2011

Post 296: A Blue So Dark

A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler.  ISBN: 9780738719269.

Sigh.  Let's talk about appropriate use of metaphors and simile shall we?  There is a right and a wrong way of using them.  They are a tool, and like any tool you have to select the right one for the job.  If you keep using a hammer, all you're going to be able to do is hold two pieces of something together with a nail or pry them apart again.  This will only get you so far in building your narrative.  Then again, there are many different kinds of hammers and the correct hammer should be selected.  You wouldn't use a mallet to drive home a point only meant to hang a picture; if you did that you'd end up with a hole in your wall.  Let's hope that wall wasn't load bearing, shall we?

Here is an example of a perhaps not so great selection of hammer,
"Just like it always happens when he's anywhere near me, my eyes are on strings tied to his wrists."  Page 16.
This is not necessarily a wrong choice, but how many of you saw something like this:
Note: picture from Etsy shop
 Yeah... This was not the intended effect.  It was like Schindler using that fix-all hammer when what she really needed was a screwdriver.  We know what she meant, that Aura's gaze was drawn to this other character for some reason, but the whole puppet/eye connection did not come across very well.  This is something that needs a little more clarity if she wants to still make this connection; otherwise, she should really use a different tool and forget the metaphor altogether.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for strange metaphor/simile.  I mean, who can forget my classic post on Packing for Mars in which I liken floating space poop to a friendly brown dolphin (not my fiance, that's for sure)?  But there has to be some follow through.  You can't just drop a metaphor and hope that everyone gets it, sometimes it needs some polish.  And if you were thinking that was another poop reference...you're probably right.  Let's take a look at something else shall we?

"Across the lot, I see Janny, alone, arms across her chest.  And I walk up to her, a smile plastered on my cheeks like a clown's grin." Page 95.  

I was going to use some photoshop here, but honestly I got a little creeped out by all the clown stuff.  Not to mention, I think we all pretty much thought of the same picture.  I understand not wanting to use the same old words to describe putting a fake smile on your face, but replacing a word or two is not exactly the best option here.  Instead of a generic simile, or better yet an actual description of the action Aura is performing, we get a surreal acid trip-like image that doesn't really work and frankly is borderline frightening.  I don't know about you, but I would run away from someone with clown-grin plastered cheeks too.

So I say to all of you writers and writerlings, please rethink your use of metaphors and simile.  Editors, don't allow your authors to use them like salt and pepper when they really ought to be used more as chilies (just enough for flavor, please). Let your author throw tantrums about the oppressiveness of Editing, let them whine about how it's like seeing their children chopped up into little pieces; in the end it's better than producing something like those two previously mentioned phrases on the page to be critiqued by schmucks like me as inadequate usage of the English language.  Hold yourselves and these artists accountable for the quality of their work; don't give a passing grade just because the attempt was good.  If they want to be professionals they should be treated like professionals and not high school students who "did their best."

My review can be found on Goodreads, and despite my complaints I ended up not hating this book. 
LibsNote: Free copy received from publisher's booth at ALA 2010.  Oh, if you enjoy awkward word choice analysis and things of a simile (haha) nature, check out Reasoning With Vampires which goes through the works of Stephenie Meyers page-by-page, that poor, poor soul.


  1. "You can't just drop a metaphor and hope that everyone gets it, sometimes it needs some polish. And if you were thinking that was another poop reference...you're probably right."


    Also, I would check out Reasoning with Vampires, but I feel like Twilight is too easy a target. As much as I dislike the existence of those novels, haven't they taken enough hits yet?

  2. Twilight can never be hit enough as long as it remains popular and people insist that it is good literature. It may be entertaining writing, but I feel it is the duty of English speakers everywhere to point out that it is not well written.


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