F is for Figurative Language #AtoZChallenge

F is for Figurative: Show, Don’t Tell

A guest post by Susie Kline

As writers, we are told over and over again that we need to show, not tell our story. That can get confusing! Sometimes, a green tree is just a green tree, right?

Wrong! Fiction writing is our time to tell a tale. We want to engage and entertain our readers. We want them to remember our story, long after the words have been read. We need that green tree to be oh so much more!

For example:

Ranging from shades of almost black to bright lime, the leaves of the forest cradle the branches and trunks amongst them. Stepping on their fallen brethren fills the air with a freshness that could only come from Mother Nature.

That sounds a lot better than:

Green leaves on the trees. If you stepped on them it smelled fresh.

Yes, it’s wordier, but it sets the mood. That’s what figurative language allows you to do in a magical way. Saying something is red is easy. Using that redness to convey emotion takes effort. A tomato red face during an argument conveys anger. A peaches and cream complexion conveys prettiness, maybe even innocence. A blood red sunset instantly transports you to a warm summer evening.

According to the Wikipedia article on figurative speech, the ways you can use figurative language are numerous. They include: simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, personification, oxymoron, paradox, hyperbole, extended metaphor, and allusion. These terms from junior high might be filling you with dread, but they are the magic ingredients of the stories we tell.

When we use these devices to tell our story, we trust that our readers are clever. Referencing Einstein is meaningless if the reader has no idea who Albert Einstein was. We can give hints: His IQ was so high, he made Einstein look like he needed to be in a remedial science class. The reader can infer that Einstein must be smart, but our character is smarter.

Without figurative language, our stories would be bland and very short. The woman knit while rocking. There was a revolution. The men changed places. The husband was saved. What a sad way Charles Dickens could have told his A Tale of Two Cities. Can you imagine a world without the phrase: It was the best of times. It was the worst of times…

But we don’t need to be a classical author like Dickens to drive home our tales. We have stories that need to be shared and we have the gift of words to give our readers. Sure, a tree can be green, but it can also house fairies. Shouldn’t your writing hold the secret of the fairies?

Susie is the owner/editor of Motherhoot (www.motherhoot.com), a slice of life blog that is author/artist friendly. She is a write at home mom, still working on that first novel. The first draft is done and the editing is underway...

Follow her on Twitter: @SusieKline.

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