When I was at NIU (the second time) studying Visual Communications, we were assigned a metaphor project. It proved challenging to a lot of us. What exactly is a metaphor and how can we show it visually?!

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. NOT LITERALLY APPLICABLE.

A metaphor is also a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract. SYMBOLIC OF SOMETHING ELSE.

Got that?

It’s not a comparison, a like or as–that would be a simile.

Metaphors can be tricky. Or clunky. Or cliché.

When I attended the Donald Maass writer’s workshop, he addressed the importance of using metaphors. He made it seem so simple. “Anything can be a metaphor,” he told us. Then he proceeded to compile a list of examples. The most visual of them was the conference room carpet. Loud with broad stripes of brown, gold, and orange, it was spotted and patched, worn and dated. The carpet was bold, functional, obviously old but the grandeur still visible, and cheaper to keep than replace. This carpet is your parent’s relationship. This carpet is the state of education in America. This carpet is the 1976 beauty pageant winner, today.*

Isn’t that interesting? He made it seem so easy.
I reflect on his words often when I’m writing. Seeking a symbolic representation of my character’s emotional situation or relationship status.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that art project lately…and by “lately” I mean pretty much every four years since it was assigned in 2000. Limited only, I assure you, by the date of the assignment. I have no idea where my mounted image is, but as a degreed Visual Communicator, I can tell you about it. Envision if you will, a plunger perfectly fitted over the dome of the Capitol Building. Not literally applicable, but definitely symbolic of something else.

*I don’t remember Maass’ examples exactly, but I think the three I listed are pretty good. Random and yet–you get it.

About Mary Fran Says

I am an artist, crafter, designer and writer. I enjoy working with mixed media-- applying visual and tactile manipulations to telling a story. Not a lot of market for that, though, :), so I'm focusing on short story submissions and novel completions. Yes, plural. Lots of beginnings, too many ideas, not enough focus.
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