One of the marks of the truly educated person is not that they can spout off random facts and memorize details, it is that they are able to see the links between areas of knowledge. All knowledge is connected, each discipline we study adds understanding to other related disciplines. The study of philosophy can bring clarity to art or history. Grasping mathematical concepts aids us in understanding science and the world we live in.
In school we are often taught to think in terms of… Algebra, Biology, English Lit etc…and it can seem each class is an entity unto itself. That is a false view of the world however and we should rejoice each time we see our child make a connection between disciplines. It is being able to recognize and develop these connections that leads to progress and gives us fresh insights into problems that have stumped us.
That is the big picture. Working with metaphors is a small, manageable exercise in making connections between unrelated subjects. When we spend time working with words and making up new combinations it helps us to think outside the box, to let our imaginations run a bit and find a fresh perspective. So, while we may do these exercises to help our children develop into better writers, there is a larger goal being worked on here. We are also helping our children pay attention and notice connections. In the words of J.D. Casnig, “The Metaphor reminds us that the universe is full of cousins.”
Okay, enough of that, let’s move on to the exercise. (If you haven’t read Easy Writing Exercise Number 4, you need to back up and read that first, it is foundational for the exercise that follows.)
When we did exercise Number 4 we were writing metaphors that were phrases or sentences. In this exercise I would like to challenge your student in two ways.
First, if you have begun to keep a notebook of metaphors, or if you have a list of some metaphors that you have spotted during your hunting in Exercise 4 I want you to go back over that list and highlight those metaphors that are a bit tired from overuse. For instance, a knife in the back, might have been quite clever when first written but now it is a cliche. Once you have identified those make a pact that you will avoid using them for the next 3 months in your writing, instead try to come up with some new fresh metaphors of your own. Revisit Exercise 4, only this time make your list with more intentionality. Look at your list of overused metaphors, identify what is being communicated, and then see if you can come up with a new, fresh metaphor that would work better.
Second, try developing a metaphor through an entire paragraph rather than just a phrase as we did earlier. There are times when a metaphor brings clarity to a difficult subject and it is beneficial to develop it a bit further. In the following lines from Shakespeare we see him comparing our lives to a drama being enacted upon a stage.
“All the World’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances.
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,”
(William Shakespeare, As You Like It. Act 2, Scene 7)
As you can see it would be possible to continue to play with this metaphor for awhile. If you have children who love sports that is an easy place to begin. Compare their life, friendships, or family to their favorite sport or team. A child with a perennially messy room may want to use that to illustrate some other facet of their life. Growing a garden, riding a bike, or doing the laundry could all be used for an extended exercise.
A word of warning to the Type A personalities out there. I would resist getting hung up on whether or not your child is mixing metaphors, simile’s, comparisons, or idioms. Yes, there are differences, and depending on the age of your child you may want to go into them, however, the point of this exercise is to improve their writing by using a new tool. In exercising that tool they may cross a few lines not sticking strictly to the narrow definition of a metaphor, let it go for now. If they are using comparisons to bring clarity and creativity to their writing we’ll call it a success. (Of course if they are actually using a mixed metaphor you may want to point that out, and if you have no idea what I’m talking about…don’t worry about it.)