This blog doesn’t have a very clear direction, so I figured my first post should be about something I love.
A standard rule given before the first assignment of a creative writing course – the kind where the students workshop each other’s pieces – is to not simply write about things that have happened to you. No matter how deft you think your handling of a situation, another student is going to say, “I dunno, this dialogue [that happened to you verbatim] doesn’t seem realistic,” or better yet, “I don’t think a real person [based on your mother] would behave this way.” It’s best if an instructor sets this rule and helps everyone avoid the hurt feelings and fears that they may not be a realistic character.
Similarly, we groan when a story goes out of its way to bash us over the head with highly transparent metaphor. The totalitarian bad guys use an angular black-on-red logo, again? “How cliche,” we might say. “How overwrought!”
Imagine, for instance, a story about a chemical spill in West Virginia. Up to 300,000 people in the 2nd poorest state in the country have been left without access to clean drinking water. The government has urged citizens not to use the water to drink, brush their teeth, or wash their clothes. People are clamoring to buy cases of water under police supervision, leaving bare shelves, an image now so strongly associated with the public’s memory of the USSR. The name of the company responsible for this terrifying situation, of course, is Freedom Industries, Inc.
Imaginative scenario, but a bit over-the-top, what with the transparent metaphor and all. Probably a B+ with good prose.
A prolific author of such unimaginative metaphors deserves sharp criticism.
Don’t forget, “overwrought,” aside from referring to the overblown, is also synonymous with nervous, neurotic, and hysterical. The scenarios which cause eye-rolling in fiction should only happen with greater frequency in an increasingly overwrought time.