Exercise 1: Playing with Metaphors

We will begin the Curious Creative exercises by exploring the foundation of all creative writing: the metaphor. Metaphors are about transferring qualities from one thing to another, to help you understand that other thing in a more complete way. Check out this metaphor from Dave Eggers’ The Wild Things:

Just then, the first light of day split the darkness like a knife prying the sky from earth.

If we unpack it, Eggers is expressing that when the sun begins to rise, only a very thin sliver of light appears, in sharp contrast to the darkness of the night sky and the earth in shadow. This light slowly widens but not easily; it’s difficult and cumbersome for the sunlight to enter because the darkness of the night sky and the horizon are joined tightly, and the darkness is all consuming. The two things being compared are the first light of day and a knife prying something open. The qualities being transferred from the prying to the sunrise are sharpness, contrast, suddenness, difficulty, and cumbersomeness.

Notice that my explanation is very long, but the metaphor implies all that in a packed punch, a kind of hyperlink to our emotions and imagination.

Your Turn!

  1. Begin by watching this clip from American Beauty. Turn off the volume so you won’t hear the dialogue.
  2. As you watch, brainstorm qualities of the plastic bag. Watch it several times. Jot down adjectives to describe what it would sound like, feel like, taste like, smell like, etc. Example: crinkly
  3. Generate other things/people/moments that share these qualities. Example: autumn leaves on a forest floor
  4. Write similes (a kind of metaphor using “like”), expressing some of these qualities, starting with, “This bag was…” Example: This bag was like leaves on the forest floor.
  5. Take off “This bag was…” and create a new simile from the second halves of the similes you have already written. Example: Leaves on the forest floor are like an old man’s bones.

Beautiful! A good metaphor gives you an image in your mind’s eye and a twinge of emotion in your gut. Did you write one that does?

Now turn on the volume and watch the clip again to learn the simile used in the film.

Consider sharing your creation in the comment box below. Or subscribe to this site for a monthly Curious Creative exercise delivered straight to your inbox!

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