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Beyond metaphor: how to implant visual images in reader’s brains through misdirection

The first week of Nanowrimo is finished and I’m 25,000 words in. This is the first time I’ve been writing fiction consistently, and I’m learning so much about the process.

But there’s one thing I’m really having fun with, that feels like an epiphany to me, and I wanted to share it. It might be common for you already. Or maybe it hasn’t really been talked about before. I wish I had a clever name for this process, but I can’t think of one.

But the thing I’ve been doing (and loving) is planting imaginary (untrue) images in my books, to characterize the setting and mood of a chapter. This has probably been done mostly via metaphor or analogy. You can sneak them in to theme your chapters. For example…

“She said, swaying like a serpent before it eats its prey”

… would work in a chapter that’s dangerous or scary or violent. But it would be a really bad analogy in a normal, non threatening chapter.

I’ve been going much further, however. Since my novels are all first person, and my main character is telling the story, I can just describe everything through the imaginative lens of the narrator.

For example, I’m writing a scene where the protagonist goes to a Halloween party. She has a mask, but is wearing plain, boring clothes (because it doesn’t make sense for her to have a fancy dress). But I want readers to see her a certain way, even though I can’t actually put her in a ball gown, so I do this:

My dark hair is tied up with this bird’s nest of a bun that holds the mask onto the top of my head, with tangles and spikes and long feathers jutting out to the sides. I wished I had an amazing black cocktail dress like I’ve seen in fashion magazines, with sequins that glittered in the moonlight. I imagined the long tails floating silently behind me, hovering just above the cold November dirt, as I drifted, like death, among the gravestones.

That’s a half accurate depiction. Many parts of the setting, and her clothing, aren’t actually in that scene, but I can serve them up anyway and put them in reader’s minds. They will see her in that dress that she’s not even wearing. They will see fog and moonlight even though there isn’t any. But that’s good: I want them to feel that chilly gothic atmosphere.


If you’re writing in first person, try it out: interpret the world through the mood of the scene through the eyes of the protagonist. The logs look like dead bodies. The clouds look like fluffy white bunnies. The limbs of the trees are reaching out to strangle me. If you’re writing in third person, you can still do a lot of this, but you become more obvious, the more you try to manipulate reader emotions with calculated use of metaphor and analogy.