Ten pages of extended metaphor
—or as many as you can manage up to ten. (I borrow this from Jonathan Galassi’s assignment to our CUNY Fellows.)
Notes & Hints:
Here’s what we discovered: a metaphor that continues beyond a page is difficult; beyond two and you are likely to repeat yourself, or run through cliches and aspects that strain the work, make it contrived, make its seams (and *seems*) show. Or else it loses strength as a tightly-bound metaphor (Orwell asserts that one should avoid all metaphors that have been used before or are loosely connected), and devolves into a “theme” of the work—no less worthy but not exactly a metaphor.
But it can be done, we discovered, and is often done by better writers who understand that a metaphor can re-surface intermittently (be referred to, or re-stated, for instance) in a work that has elements of the metaphor at play throughout—and thus creates a resonant “a-ha” moment in the reader. One of the tricks is to inhabit the work from “inside” the metaphor, to deploy it not as an add-on or comparison, but to make it intrinsic to the characters, action, settings, and even the style, voice, and formal structure.
How is this an editing prompt? To do a literary version of this, most will have to work and re-work this. It’s almost impossible to “flow” this without violating these rules, or creating a simplistic extended metaphor that rings every possible bell but makes no music.
Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” is an example of everything described here, the successes and failures of an attempted extended metaphor. It succeeds, mostly, because it takes its metaphor literally, seriously, and at face value.
Confused? Intrigued? This one cannot be explained so much as attempted. Metaphors are go-to solutions, and arise naturally as we make connections. So much so that we are often on auto-pilot when we use them. Anything we do on auto-pilot, as writers, benefits from an up-ending, inversion, or disruption.
Write a piece devoid of all metaphors, similes, comparisons, and abstractions.
Choose an existing work (yours, five pages) that has at least one clear-cut metaphor, and it must be important (reveals/clarifies a character, place, or action). Change the metaphor utterly, then adjust the rest of the piece to accommodate the new metaphor (or, alternatively, remove the metaphor and add/edit prose to convey those aspects non-metaphorically.