Writing In Style Requires Rewriting & Revision

Posted at 04:56am on 6th April 2009

Can any one of us honestly say that the first draft of our book has been written in style? Yes, we fall in love with great chunks of our work – phrases, paragraphs, heck, whole chapters. But I’d be the first to admit that if I put my work away for a few weeks and then take it out to read again, some of it is pretty cringey! Without a re-write and some revision it could never, remotely, be considered a good piece of writing.

And that’s what we’re looking at in this mini-series: What is a good story versus what makes a good piece of writing?

We covered the need to edit in Really Good Writing Requires Really Good Editing! The topics covered were:

  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Adjectives & Adverbs
  • Verbs
  • Choosing the right word
  • Tautology

Today we’re going to look at:

  • Metaphor
  • Cliché
  • Analogy
  • Allegory

METAPHOR

A metaphor is a word or phrase used in place of another to bring a pleasurable and new perspective or understanding. Used well, metaphors encapsulate meaning in a vivid and imaginative manner. In my first book, published in 1982, I described rows of terraced houses as being 'regimented armies, marching down the hillside'. That description served, I hope, to summon a picture in my reader’s mind, which the simple phrase 'rows of terraced houses' fails to do.

(As I write this, I’ve just heard the most wonderful metaphor on BBC1, when Joanna Lumley went to see the Northern Lights and described the sensation of stepping out into the cold air as 'breathing knives')

However, abuse of metaphor like ‘her eyes danced across the room’ (was it a waltz or a foxtrot?) and its overuse should, like weeds proliferating in the herbaceous borders of our prose, be ruthlessly hoed from their perennial beds of flowering, tweaked from the crevices of the rock garden and thrown on the bonfire of . . .

CLICHÉ

Cliché is a word, phrase or concept (like that above) that has been so abused or overused that it has ceased to have any real meaning. We use cliché in conversation because it is a form of shorthand. ‘At the end of the day,’ everyone knows what you mean by ‘raining cats and dogs’; ‘stiff as a board’ and ‘filthy rich’ and such phrases save a good deal of explanation. But their use in writing should be all-but eliminated. Your work will be improved ‘no end’!

ANALOGY

An analogy is the comparison of one thing with another and so requires the use of the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ to link the two. Hence, you might say: ‘the words ran from his mouth like water from a tap’. Analogies spawn word games like completing the following: ‘if meow is to cat, then chirp is to . . .?’ (bird). Like metaphors and clichés they should be used sparingly and, as you can see in these amusing examples, with extreme caution.

ALLEGORY

I don’t suppose for one moment that you will need to revise or rewrite your narrative in respect of allegory, but I’ve included it simply because it’s easy to become muddled about the difference between metaphor, analogy and allegory.

Allegory does not require the use of ‘like’ or ‘as’ because it is not making a comparison between two things. Allegory tells its own story as a means of conveying a truism, and the similarity or inference is to be drawn from it rather than explained.

Perhaps the simplest way to define allegory is to refer you to the Bible’s Song of Solomon (which describes a relationship between a Bride and her Lover – the inference being that this is what the relationship between God and Believer should be); Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress with its Slough of Despond and Destruction City, is an allegory of a Christian believer’s journey through life and faith; and finally, William P Young’s The Shack, which describes a similar journey.

I'm wishing you every encouragement for the most efficacious editing!

NEXT TIME: We’ll continue the theme of editing, revising and rewriting.

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