Incorporating Figurative Language in Prose

One of the qualities of truly rich and enjoyable prose—language that you can bite off and chew—includes figurative devices.

There is so much more to telling a story than describing events.  Especially when romance is involved.  Reading a book is not about absorbing words and hearing a story.  A good storyteller conveys their story by having their reader experience events.  Even description of a landscape becomes a totally different animal when figurative language is involved.  To wit:

“The long grass blew in the breeze and the lake’s surfaced shimmered in the distance.”


“Emerald fields danced in the breeze and diamonds glimmered on the surface of the water.”

Prose that employs figurative language, such as personification, metaphor, simile, and alliteration, is rich and thick and can be savored.  Not only is the language more appreciable, but the telling of the story itself comes across much more powerfully.

The best way to do this?  Read and write poetry!   It is compact, figurative.  It is the literary equivalent of a snapshot.  But not only does it provide a visual. Poetry packs a punch emotionally as well.

For figurative language I highly suggest the Metaphysical poets like John Donne,  or, later, the poems of  Gerard Manley Hopkins, and still later, T.S. Eliot, the figurative master.  They are difficult to understand, but they stack a lot of visuals on top of each other, each one quicker than the last.  Read them, study them.  Read them aloud and savor the sound of the language on your tongue.

Try your hand at a few poems.  For practice, take the theme of your novel and write a poem about it.  Then write a poem for both your hero and your heroine.  Lastly, write a poem about your setting.

When you get back t o your work-in-progress, you will be able to draw upon the phrasing from those poems to start layering more figurative language in your prose.

Here are links to some online resources about improving your figurative language in writing:

Examples of Figurative Speech in the Poems of Robert Frost

Metaphors, Similes and Personification

Using Figurative Language 

You’re Not Special

I know that’s the opposite of what we’ve been taught all our lives to use as a personal mantra in order to bolster our self esteem.  But earlier in the year, I heard an accomplished author, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, confess that she said this to herself regularly:  “You’re not special.”

Meaning that what you are going through is no different than others in similar situations.  As a writer, you aren’t special because you get rejected.  I’m finding comfort in this recently.  I’ve come to the conclusion that a project that I have submitted to a contest recently likely does not have a chance of reaching the finals.  Though I have no official word (and probably won’t for a few months), it doesn’t look good.

A friend of mine who is a successful published author encouraged me (not in so many words) to shake it off and move on.  My natural tendency in the past has been to wallow in my misery for a while.  How unproductive.  I might look at her career and see her success now but I wasn’t around to see the rejection she went through, too.  It’s all a part of becoming published.  Part and parcel.  I’m NOT special!  Somewhere, someday, someone will see some worth in my writing.

While I did feel pretty down in the dumps about this.  (And it would have been an excellent opportunity to break out).  I suppose I had pinned too much of my hope on too few things.  But opportunities come around all the time and even when avenues close, others open.  Like Maria touted in The Sound of Music : “Whenever God closes a door, somewhere, He opens a window.”  It’s up to me to find that window and figure out a way through.

Romantic Times Booklovers Convention

In keeping with my 2011 goals, I was lucky enough to attend the convention when it took place near my hometown last week.  As part of that, I entered the Advanced Aspiring Authors workshops the two days before the general conference opened.  After that, there was a bevy of workshops to choose from–often more than one at the same time–packed full of useful information.  I took tons of notes. 

I’m also afraid to admit that I got overwelmed.

What a roller-coaster of ups and downs!  SO much to learn.  So much to absorb.  I felt surges of hope and dips into self-doubt. 

I’ve decided that after a short breather, I’ll come back and assimilate the things I learned and review the (plentiful!) notes I took at the workshops.  I just wish I could have spread that information throughout the year–say have one of those workshops a week, for example.  That would have been nice refreshment.  As it turned out, I felt like I was trying to get a sip out of a high-pressure fire hydrant.

So, for now, my Top 10 list of Hi-Lights from Romantic Times 

10. Getting “up close and personal” advice from romance authors like Bobbi Smith, Mary Wine, Mia Marlowe,  and Amanda MacIntyre, and fantasy author Karen Miller  during the pre-conference workshops.

9. Watching the Avon Historical Authors answer questions live on the Internet.  And the cupcakes and wine were nice, too!

8. Having lunch with an agent and editor and being able to “talk shop” with them.

7. Having an editor give me her card and ask me to email her personally regarding my opinions on eb00k pricing and marketing.

6. Having an agent give me her card based on a pitch for a book I haven’t even started yet!

5. Learning that the difference between “good” writing and “great” writing is all about CONFLICT and EMOTION. 

4. Meeting amazing and sweet people who write cool Historical Science Fiction (Steampunk) like Nathalie Gray and Suzanne Lazear.

3. Enjoying the parties!  So many nice people gathered in so small of an area.   Also, sitting in the bar and actually RECOGNIZING people from their author pic on their blogs.

2. Meeting fellow aspiring authors-in-crime like Miss Anita.

1. Finally: meeting my WONDERFUL crit partner, Kate McKinley, and discovering that she is just as wonderufl in person.  She’s going to do amazing things.  Keep an eye out for her!

Through the Genres

I started out writing Fantasy.  Pure Fantasy.  Swords and sorcery and… well actually if I go even further back I started out at the ripe age of twelve writing poems.  Some people think in pictures.  I have always “seen” and “heard” my thoughts as words.  Words that form pictures, concise and succinct.  Words that paint colors and punch snapshots of emotion.  It’s hard to explain.  But for me, when a poem came to me, I always got a sort of “feeling” –it was a tingly sort of prickly feeling at the back of my throat and behind my eyes.  It’s like I’d feel it coming “on” (not unlike the feeling of a migraine or attack of bersitis about to come on).  The poem would “appear,” almost leaping off my fingers.  Almost as if I hadn’t written it at all.  Almost as if I was plucking some formless shape from the ether and giving it form, words, colors, emotions.

Writing poems kept me sane during some of the darkest times of my life.  I called them “naked pictures of my soul” because they exposed my inner emotional workings like no other form of art could.  I suspect it is much like this for visual artists.  Whenever I started to create I could never see the entire “thing” I was creating until the end.

Writing fiction creates a little more distance than I had with poetry.  I can “shield” the rawness in fiction.  But kernels of those inner workings still emerge.  I’ll often sit back and wonder, “Where did THAT come from?”  Creation is strange like that.

More to the point, why the switch from poetry, to longer fiction: first fantasy, and then historical romance?  My first work of long fiction centered around a character named Synna.  I started out writing her “history” and somewhere along the way, her story evolved into an epic fantasy that would have stretched volumes, had I written it all out (three volumes exist in a fairly primitive state now and are, for now, trunked).  When people asked me what I was writing, I’d first say “Fantasy.”  When I got a blank stare, I’d elaborate:  “Think LORD OF THE RINGS meets PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.”  They’d quirk their brow, intrigued.

It was the best way to describe the Synna story.  Though I could never hope to touch Austen or Tolkien, it gave people a filter to categorize my writing.  It gave me a goal to shoot for.  It was a novel of manners and relationships against a backdrop of epic Fantasy story lines–good versus evil and the imminent doom of the world and all that good stuff.

So why romance?  It kind of snuck up on me. (And yes, I know that ‘snuck’ is not proper usage, but it’s such a great word).  I’ve been a Jane Austen fan since college when I first read “Pride and Prejudice.”  Her work is the precursor, in my opinion, of the modern romance novel.  Her novels are about relationships and the growth and development of characters as a result of finding true love.  They are about the happily ever after.  Every one of Jane Austen’s novels ends with a wedding or proposal.

Romance, for me, is about what it provides for the reader.  It is not unlike Fantasy in the respect of feeling a need for escape.  A romance novel immerses a reader in another world, governed by it’s own rules, encased in boundaries so-defined by the author and peopled by characters that are real people.  Characters that could be your friend, your cousin, yourself.

The romantic element in literature is so ingrained that rarely a popular piece of fiction (whether in novel, cinematic or other form) does not have a love story somehow involved or attached to it.  Romance is important.  Love, desire, hope are all facets and parts of feeling human.  They soften the hard parts of the world and make it easier to live in.  I’m waiting for the study that shows that reading a romance novel releases the same amount of endorphins in the brain as eating a good piece of chocolate.

A Writer’s Tools: Fingerless Gloves

I do most of my writing time on my laptop, a Macbook which happens to be made of aluminum.  And as aluminum is a conductive metal, it gets ice cold in chilly weather–or in an overly air-conditioned Starbucks (a coffee-fueled writer talking, here).

I can be all swathed in a comfy jacket, warm socks and scarf but if I’ve got my wrists resting on arctic metal, then it’s very difficult to concentrate and get to the work at hand.  Conversely, wearing full gloves and typing is pretty much impossible. 

There is a remedy!  The fashion of the day has brought us the practical and useful fingerless gloves.  I recently purchased a pair on sale at a local sporting goods store and they look something like this:

Fingerless gloves let your fingers do the work & keep you warm.

I’m sure there are loads of lovely items on etsy you can peruse.  But since I crochet I’m going to make these before the weather gets too nice to wear them:

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