March 25, 2012

WRITING ADVICE – SL Viehl #1: Metaphor In Image and Writing

I stumbled across the writing of Sheila Kelly (aka SL Viehl, Gena Gale, Jessica Hall, Rebecca Kelly and Lynn Viehl) about eleven years ago with the publication of her first novel, STARDOC. I was looking for a the work of a current writer to replace one of my favorite kind of science fiction – human doctors in a space hospital working on aliens. I discovered this genre as an adolescent in Alan E. Nourse’s STAR SURGEON, followed it into James White’s SECTOR GENERAL books and A.M. Lightner’s DOCTOR TO THE GALAXY. SL Viehl’s books satisfied that itch – but I learned about a year ago that she is so much more than just a “space hospital” writer! The bits of writing advice in this new ten part series are used with her permission. This one is from:

I’ve been toying with metaphor for many years and only recently started to write it intentionally.

Metaphor has a long and illustrious history in literature. Metaphor has a long and illustrious history in science fiction. One of my favorite episodes in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION is one in which an entire people communicate through metaphor. Of course, no one on the Enterprise (or in the rest of the Federation) knows that until, through a life-or-death threat Picard and the other captain, Dathon figure out how to communicate. Dathon’s people speak perfectly good English – but they cite examples from their history and mythology in order to make a point. They speak in metaphor.

While that was an extreme case, the fact is that every writer speaks in metaphor.

My problem has always been knowing what I was saying. Even when I wrote a story that was published – like “A Pig Tale” in ANALOG (May 2000) or “Dear Hunter” in CICADA (Jan/Feb 2000), I can honestly say that I had no intention of using my writing as a metaphor for advancing my personal agenda. Because at its base, when I use metaphor, I am using something “obscure” to say something plain.

In my short story, “A Pig Tale”, a researcher discovers a cure for Alzheimer’s that initiates the reconstruction of memory pathways damaged by the disease. During the reconstruction, the brain of the recipient is extremely susceptible to incorporating external stimuli. Left in isolation, the old memories return, restoring the Alzheimer’s sufferer to normal. The treatment also has sinister possibilities for use in brainwashing. It’s this use that the researcher turns to rewrite her parent’s grim recent history.

What did I intend to say with this story? What was this tale standing in the place of? What did I want people to walk away with?

In retrospect, I wanted to return to a simpler time of my life; a time I truly and dearly loved. We lived in the country, in an old/new house and did little but play with the children, mow the lawn, tend a garden and enjoy ourselves. But real life intruded not long after with sick children and me away for a week in the Cities. The metaphor “A Pig Tale” represented a realization that “You can’t go back to innocence without paying a steep price.”

IS that what I meant? I don’t know.

SL Viehl’s article has this to say, “The lovely thing about hunting and collecting visual metaphors are the many ways you can use them; they don't have to be assigned a single meaning. The hanging crystals are definitely going in the story I'm working on now; they'll serve very well as part of a characterization. I like the rusty bikes, too, and I think I know just how to use them to illustrate a chunk of backstory.”

She interprets metaphor more tightly than I do, but I have lots of things to learn before I begin to make regular publications. This is one of the things I need to work on.

What does metaphor mean to you and YOUR writing?

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