Friday, September 20, 2013

Improve Your Student's Writing by Reading this Story.

I'd like to begin our next blog post with a question, Bonefish. What's a metaphor?

I don't know, Mr. Butt. I've never used a meta. I have no idea what it's for.

No, Bonefish, metaphor is one word. A metaphor compares or describes two things without using the words "like" or "as." Metaphors are dandy way to make your writing scary good. And metaphors can save your life.

Save your life?

Yes, if you happen to find yourself lost in an enchanted forest where trees talk and danger lurks in every shadow.
The Third Thing.
“I should have listened to my father," the little girl muttered. She looked around her at the vast sea of trees and closed her eyes to dam up the tears. She was lost. Her father had told her not to go too far into this forest. He said this forest was full of dark enchantment.
She looked up through the canopy of trees trying to find the sun. She knew it fell to the west and that her home lay in that direction. But the branches of the trees entwined like the top of a woven basket in which she was trapped.
“Help me!” She cried out. The desperate sound of her voice only underlined her isolation.
The branches of a nearby tree stirred. She found this curious since there was no wind to blow them.
“Who’s there?”
She heard a creaking sound like a wooden bow being drawn to fire an arrow. Thinking she was the target, she ducked into a nearby bush. She peered through the leaves, but saw no sign of a hunter. She saw something much more frightening.
A face was forming in the bark of a mighty oak. The wood groaned as two knots in the tree blinked open to form eyes. A mouth grew from the claw mark of a bear. A nose rose above the gaping maw.
“You are a blinded bird flying in a snowstorm," the oak tree said in a rasping voice.
The girl knitted her brow. “No, I'm not a bird. I'm a girl.”
“You are an Eskimo wandering in the desert.”
“No, I'm a little girl,” she replied. “I'm lost.”
“Is that not what I've been saying?” The tree said.
“No, you said I was a blinded bird flying in a snowstorm and an Eskimo wandering in the desert.”
“And so you are.”
The girl wondered if she had changed into a bird. She looked at her arms to see if they had become wings. They were unchanged. She checked her clothes to see if they had become the sealskin an Eskimo wears. They remained a simple blouse and skirt.
The girl pondered the two statements. “Wait a minute. A blinded bird in a snowstorm is lost. An Eskimo wandering in the desert is lost. You mean I’m lost.”
“You are a soothsayer who always knows the future.”
“That means I'm right.”
The branches of the tree rose and fell to confirm that she was correct.
“Can you help me find my way back home?” She asked.
“I can, but you will need to do three things.”
“What are they?”
“First, you must break the bones of the clattering skeleton that haunts you.”
“Break the bones of the clattering skeleton that haunts me? But I don't see any skeleton haunting me. I wouldn't be standing here if a clattering skeleton was nearby. I'd be running away because I'd be afraid.” She considered the phrase for a moment. "Wait a minute. That's it. A clattering skeleton that haunts me. Do you mean I’m afraid?”
“Is that what I mean?”
“Of course, a clattering skeleton stands for my fear. I must get rid of my fear.”
“Next, you must become a mother deer protecting her fawn from a pack of wolves.”
“But how do I change into a mother deer? Do you have a magic potion?”
The mighty branches shook. “You cannot change the outside.”
The girl wrinkled her brow. “Then I must change the inside?” She put her finger to her cheek. “I understand. A mother deer protecting her fawn from a pack of wolves stands for bravery. I must be brave.”
The ancient tree murmured yes.
Suddenly, the girl remembered a lesson from school.
“Metaphors! You’re speaking in metaphors. You’re comparing two things that are not alike in a way that makes them similar. You compared things that you can’t touch like bravery and fear to things you can touch like skeletons and deer.”
The tree murmured.
“I have you figured out, you tricky tree.” She grinned. “What is the third thing that I must do?”
“You must wrestle the giant slobbering ogre to earn a map of the forest to lead you out,” the tree said.
“Wrestle the giant slobbering ogre?”
The branches of the tree rose and fell.
She wrinkled her brow and put her finger to her cheek. Wrestle the giant slobbering ogre? What does wrestling the giant slobbering ogre stand for? What is the metaphor?
“I’ve got it! Wrestling the giant slobbering ogre is a metaphor for figuring out a difficult problem.”
The tree shook its branches.
She put her finger to her cheek. “What could it be?”
The tree waited.
“I know. Wrestling the giant slobbering ogre is a metaphor for wrestling with my guilty conscience for disobeying my father.”
Again the oak shook its branches. “No, wrestling the giant slobbering ogre is what you must do.”
A huge ogre stepped out of a stand of trees. A trail of slime leaked from his gaping jaws down his chin. “Best two out of three falls,” the ogre said.
“Uh oh,” the brave little girl muttered. She swallowed her fear and shot for a double leg takedown.

How did you like that story, Bonefish?

The ending pinned me to the page. 

If you read this to students, you can start a discussion about creating metaphors and why good ones make writing standout.  In addition to metaphors, you can explain the metaphor’s cousin, the simile. As you know, the simile compares two things just like a metaphor only a simile uses like or as to link them such as: The man smelled like the south end of a northbound mule or we ran as quickly as bunnies being chased by a carrot farmer. Next blog post, we will show you a way to turn similes into metaphors, then use them to create a lovely poem.

I can't wait.


For 13 free lessons from Scary Good Writing, click here. Then find Lionel Leopard holding the Special offer sign and click on the sign.