Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Dr. Seuss's New Metaphors

We'll forgo the general-interest material (don't worry! it's coming!) in favor of further illustration of the concepts I presented in my last Q&A. One of my dear Philistines has a question about applying the concepts to a moderately famous piece of writing:

Q. Can you show us how much stupendously better The Cat in the Hat would be if only you'd been around when Dr. Seuss originally and ignorantly penned it, assuming he knew who you were and took lessons from you and actually did what you suggested?

A. I can, and when I'm done, I think we'll all agree it would have been a much stronger novel. Here's the opening paragraph:
The sun did not shine.
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house
All that cold, cold wet day.

It's pitiful, isn't it?

Q. Pitiful as a one-legged puppy.

A. Exactly. Notice the distinct lack of a dead body, the unresolved information issues (what state is the house in? what day of the year? what was the exact temperature in Kelvins?), and the lack of emotionally-charged dialogue and emotionally-laden words. No thesaurus work, either. The author does get one thing right: "we" is mysteriously gender-neutral. Yet we're not going to fix it up as a hook--

Q. Shucks.

A. No, dear Philistine, we're going to vividify the imagery by inserting simile and metaphor. It clearly needs it. The author even resorts to illustrations to help us imagine the scene!

Q. Shameful.

A. Quite. Here's a version of it with my inspired imagery:
The sun was as bright as a black hole.
Outside, the wind threw water against the window like a deranged automated car wash.
We sat in the house like a couple of little old ladies.
It was cold and wet outside like a sock that's been dipped in the toilet and hung on the shower curtain rod to dry.

Q. Love the sock-in-the-toilet part.

A. Fetching, isn't it?

Q. Oh, yeah.

A. Now, we aren't finished with it, because we can still strengthen our similes by turning them into metaphors. Recall that, to do so, we lie about the actual nature of things.

Q. Dirty liars, all of us.

A. Not dirty, but liars, yes. Here's the new version:
The sun was a black hole.
Outside, a deranged automated car wash threw water against the window.
We, a couple of little old ladies, sat in the house.
Our house was inside a sock that had been dipped in the toilet and hung on the shower curtain rod to dry.

Q. It's a one-legged puppy!

A. Actually, it appears to be a psychedelic science fiction story--like Philip K. Dick might have written--about two little old ladies that live in a house next to a deranged car wash, inside a wet sock on a shower curtain rod that orbits a black hole.

Q. It does appear so, yes.

A. But if you read between the lines--which any half-literate reader will be able to do--you'll see that the old ladies are actually two children, and that the car wash and wet sock represent the weather. It's obvious.

Q. Obvious as a one-legged puppy.

A. Enough with the puppy already. Anyway, it's too bad Theodor Geisel is dead. He could have used my inspired guidance. Think of all the books he could have sold.

Q. Millions.

A. Billions!


At 6:59 PM, Blogger Norbert said...

Hello, Mr. Writing Person. May I call you Writing? or maybe Mr. Person?

I believed myself to be no longer an illiterate philistine until your great insight showed me the truth of my self-deception. Thank you.

Now, I am a fantasy writer (with now a touch of romance), but I've become rather dissatisfied with my writing. It's just missing something. Example:

"Peering through the light of the black hole sun, Fabio sighed, and a violent wave shattered the beach into a thousand tiny pieces. Elledron, the fair elven princess, was nowhere to be found. Fabio was a lonely pitchfork in the middle of space. He wandered down the street with a poise and sexuality very unlike a rabid chihuahua. The streetlights shimmered over his beautiful, naked torso [and so on...] Suddenly, a beautiful maiden runs out from the shadows and [gratuitous sex scene here].

Meanwhile, and evil giraffe standeth over his diabolical plans for the end of the world. Long-neck laugheth maniacally. Lightning crasheth. Inchworms fleeth to Bermuda..."

I just don't know how to get from point a (Fabio making out and seeking an elvish princess) to b (saving the princess from the long-necked man and stopping his nefarious plans) Help me!

At 10:18 PM, Blogger Mr. Writing Person said...

You may call me "Mr. Writing Person."

I may answer this on Friday. [Ed: I hope you don't mind if he totally misrepresents you.] Thank you for asking your question, young Philistine. Doubtless it shall be a great boon to grasshoppers and inchworms everywhere.

By the way, you might consider changing this sentence:

He wandered down the street with a poise and sexuality very unlike a rabid chihuahua.

to something like this:

He, the non-rabid unchihuahua, wandered down the street.

Because even the greatest fools understand that rabid chihuahuas represent the absence of poise and sexuality. Charles Dickens was famous for using such imagery.

At 12:03 PM, Blogger Mr. Writing Person said...

[Ed: Norbert, Mr. Writing Person has quoted your novel excerpt in full (with very minor changes) in his "missive" for Friday. Is that okay? If you don't reply, I'll assume it is, because you specifically asked him for help.

I guess he thought it was brilliant, or at least not, you know, shockingly bad like most of the stuff he puts up with. Good job!]

At 12:27 PM, Blogger Norbert said...

Yes, that is quite alright... in fact that's why I asked. I appreciate your help!


At 8:11 PM, Blogger eleka nahmen said...

Your sentences bring me peals of delight. Kudos :)

At 4:15 AM, Anonymous vatyma said...

haha I used to love Dr. Seuss,
not anymore!

man, you think you can maybe publish a series of adapted books of dr. suess?

At 12:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



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