Series: Elements of Structure Part 6: It's like…
How do we connect with readers?
I am cursed with reading. I used to love it: diving down deep into a novel or story, sprinkling my mind with pixie dust and faraway vistas. It seems all I read lately are op-ed pieces that make my blood pressure rise. My tether to fantasy and imagination frays and twists: reading for pleasure is challenging. A recent article in the Washington Post by Charles Lane, “Griping about the popular vote? Get over it.” Lane begins his piece as any hack, by using a sports analogy.
I hate sports analogies.
Sports analogies are accessible to the majority of readers. However, I contend that the use of a poorly-ironed out sports analogy is dangerous and defective. The sports analogy he uses doesn’t make sense: he states that the election is like giving the presidency to the yards gained, not the points scored. How about explaining the laws on the books and the Constitution? Oh, perhaps that’s too rough for his audience and his purpose: he wants to give Trump supporters the ‘feel good’ moment of a football analogy to make them feel smart and nod in understanding and agreement, not realizing how flimsy it all is. The article is embedded with links and other ideas that counter the writer’s. It’s easy to see how analogies can misdirect and overwhelm. Why look up any counter argument when the sports analogy is right there?
Today the Electoral College will decide if the president-elect is qualified or not, treasonous, or not, and fit to serve the American people. (He’s not.) And this is how using a cliche or analogy that is false can be dangerous.
One of my friends, (we don’t see eye to eye politically, but we do enjoy the conversation: a rare gift these days) asked me about what kinds of analogies are useful. I’m not sure.
My mind’s been wandering and created this list of (cliched) analogies:
- Pregnancy/giving birth
What other ones can you think of?
The difference between an analogy and an anecdote in this instance is the analogy misdirects the reader to feel that some parallel logic, while an anecdote, being personal, speaks to larger themes and questions, and in this instance would provide greater credibility and connection.
Metaphor: An implicit comparison between two DISSIMILAR things – e.g. He is a warthog ***In both similes and metaphors, the second item takes the place of the first item.*** In other words, the face has the qualities of an ice cream cone, the man is a warthog. ALSO NOTE: The meaning of a simile or a metaphor IS NOT LITERAL. Her face is not triangular or cold to the touch, and he does not smell bad or have pointy teeth coming out of his face.
Analogy: A statement that shows how someone or something IS ACTUALLY LIKE a second thing. In an analogy, unlike a simile or metaphor, you do not use the second item to replace the first, but rather, to highlight some unseen quality. Instead of saying “He is a pig” (a metaphor), one might say, “Watching you eat is like watching a pig roll in mud”
Cliché: A simile, metaphor or analogy that has been overused. The reason for using the above devices is to bring some NEW insight to a piece of writing. Using old, threadbare similes, metaphors and analogies add little, if anything to the writing.
The trick is to avoid using cliches, but that’s not an easy trick to pull off. (So very meta in the cliche department right now.)
Here are a few other sites that may prove useful:
When you have a purpose and message for speaking, my advice would be to use anecdotes over analogies.
We had a former admin who used to show us this scene from Remember the Titans. It was his theme “song:”
I remember this, but more importantly, I remember a personal story he shared about a teacher who held him up to higher standards and kept him accountable. I remember his personal story more.
My current admin plays us this, (and it scares the mess out of us):
We’re still in the process of getting to know one another, but the more personal stories she shares and her vision, the stronger the whole staff is. We don’t need to be scared into coming to work — it’s not motivating. We know how important it is. We just want to get to work.
Neither of these is wrong, inaccurate, or without merit and feeling. They are short-cuts to a broader message, and that’s the purpose of analogies, anecdotes, and allusions. They help connect the reader quickly to ideas. Just be cautious in that the ideas are connected well and strong.