USING METAPHOR TO STRENGTHEN POV (Point of View)
By Candice Hern
Many thanks to Kelly for inviting me here today. And best of luck to all of you participating in the 90-day Writing Challenge!
Point-of-view is one of my favorite writerly topics, and I can go on an on about it from several different angles. But today I thought I’d focus on one small aspect – a simple but useful tool within the POV toolkit: metaphor.
In the many POV workshops I’ve given, I tend to concentrate on deep 3rd person POV and how to use it to give depth and texture to characterization. What follows, though, has equal value when writing in 1st person. Use of appropriate metaphor in POV narrative is one of many ways to get into the character’s head, to give the reader an understanding of how the POV character views the world.
It’s a simple trick, but effective. For example:
If your hero is an architect, he might think of the world and relationships in terms of building and structure.
If he is a race car driver, he may think in terms of roads and speed and traction.
If your heroine is a chef, she might think in terms of slow-cooking and fast-freezing.
If your hero is a soldier, he may think of life in terms of a battlefield.
You can use metaphor to bring in these unique perspectives of the world, while at the same time adding depth to your characterization.
1) In my novella, FROM THIS MOMENT ON, the hero was sea captain, and I sprinkled his narrative with words and phrases from the sea and the navy, eg:
Gulfs of time and experience separated them, and yet she still had the ability to set his heart beating to quarters.
The idea taunted him like the hint of a sail in the distance blinking in and out of the mist, beyond his reach, and with it came a pang of longing that he quickly checked.
Was she flirting with him, trying to seduce him into staying? The very idea made his groin tighten, and his heart pitch and roll in his chest like a sloop in a high wind.
2) The hero in my traditional Regency, A GARDEN FOLLY was a landscape gardener, and I peppered his narration with garden images, eg:
Thoughts of her gnawed at him like a cutworm on flax.
She favored him with a smile warm enough to sprout daisies in winter.
3) The hero in THE BRIDE SALE was a copper mine owner, which provided me with a rich lode of metaphor (sorry, I couldn’t resist!), eg:
Garment upon garment had been layered on so that she looked as broad and square as an engine house.
She wore a thick woolen robe, wrapped and tied closely about her. It was a most unappealing garment, but just knowing she had on nothing more than a night rail beneath it set his heart to pounding like the great high-pressure beam engine down at Wheal Devoran.
4) Richard in HER SCANDALOUS AFFAIR was a soldier. Military terms helped build the metaphors in his narrative, eg:
He would have to return to London, of course, and lay siege to her once again. He had an entertaining little skirmish in mind for the next time they met.
Using metaphor in this way helps to immerse the reader into the POV character’s view of the world. But don’t overdo it. Too many sieges and skirmishes for the soldier hero can become an annoying affectation that can potentially drive the reader crazy – in the same way that many readers hate the over-use of dialect.
I do believe, though, that metaphor can truly enhance the reader’s understanding of the character. Consider the ubiquitous pounding heart, for example. At some point in a romance, the hero’s heart is likely to pound, preferably set off in some way by the heroine. Probably the most common pounding-heart metaphor (or simile, to be more precise) is “like a drum.” But that comparison is so generic that we get no sense of the character who is expressing that feeling. Look again at the examples above. The sea captain’s heart “beats to quarters” and the copper miner’s heart pounded “like the great high-pressure beam engine” at his mine. See how those similes are unique to each character’s view of the world? And much more evocative than the old drum simile, don’t you think?
You may need to search for a frame of reference for your metaphors and similes. The imagery created by those metaphors should have meaning for the POV character.
When I was writing my novella with the sea captain hero, I sought out all sorts of navy/sailor terminology, and made a long list of terms and phrases I thought might come in handy. It became a lexicon for the hero. Whenever I wanted to inject a bit of the sea in his speech or narrative, I went to my lexicon and looked for a suitable image.
I recommend a similar exercise if your hero or heroine has a very specific life experience that may involve a unique vocabulary. You can actually build a dictionary for your character. For example, if your character is a farmer, your dictionary or lexicon would include terms relevant to harvests, reaping, sowing, planting, seeds, fields, crops, etc. Once you build a character dictionary, you can subtly work those words and phrases into both dialog and narrative, and use them to build metaphors. For less specific character types you can still build a dictionary – you simply have to think in terms of a general world view, eg a wealthy man who’s never had to struggle may think in terms of yacht races and stock options, whereas a waitress who works double shifts to meet the rent may think in terms of high tippers and four-tops.
Just as each POV character should have a unique narrative voice, each also has a unique perspective on the world based on their life experience. That unique world view will help you develop his/her voice. Just as a sea captain’s perspective, and voice, will be different from an Oxford-educated nobleman, so will a cowboy’s perspective be different from a high tech CEO’s. Or a human’s perspective different from a vampire’s perspective. Metaphor and simile can help create that unique voice, and in the end will add emotional power to your POV narrative.
And as a by-product, all that creative metaphor and imagery will give more artistry to your writing.
(One lucky commenter will win her choice of books from my backlist. Kindle and Nook users can request an ebook version.)
BIO: Candice Hern is the award-winning author of historical romance novels set during the English Regency, a period she knows well through years of collecting antiques and fashion prints of the era. She travels to England regularly, always in search of more historical and local color to help bring her books to life, and prides herself on the detailed research that goes into each novel. Her books have won praise for their “intelligence and elegant romantic sensibility” (Romantic Times) as well as “delicious wit and luscious sensuality” (Booklist). Her first book was published in 1995, the result of winning a writing contest.