Saturday, April 13, 2013
Aim To Change the Way Your Reader Sees the World
Do you want a goal for laboring over word choices, to justify the time it takes to come up with that perfect description? How about aiming to change the way your reader sees the world in some small way? Now that may sound like a lofty goal, maybe even overdramatic to you; however, I achieved that goal during a private lesson the other day, according to my 8th-grade student, B.
I opened my lesson by explaining to B that "literal language says just what it means, nothing more; whereas figurative language means more than what it says." She smiled and replied, "Huh...I never thought of it that way, but you're right."
Then I presented some examples of figurative imagery. First I asked her to read this sentence aloud:
The sand is like crumbled mountains, dissolved by lapping waves.
I asked, "If you read that sentence without the simile, you have a literal description of sand being lapped by waves, right?" She read it softly to herself and nodded. "And if you substitute the simile 'like coarse brown sugar' for the crumbled mountains simile, how would the sentence change?"
She wrinkled her brow. "Hmm. Well, it would describe what the sand looked like. But it's not as good as the first simile."
"Why not? It's a sweeter image, right?"
She chuckled. "Yes. But it's not as descriptive as 'crumbled mountains.' It only says what the sand looks like, but not what it's...what it's LIKE."
I prompted her further: "Okay, elaborate on that. What else, besides how the sand looks, does the image of crumbled mountains suggest to you?"
Her eyes lit up. "Time passing! It takes a long time for mountains to crumble." I was still nodding happily as she added, "Erosion!"
"Yes, yes! So it makes you think of sand a-a-as..." I led her with my rising tone.
"As pieces of mountains, not just...sand."
"Yes!" I then gave her a short metaphorical poem I wrote as an expansion of the same image. "Here. Now read this poem, please. 'The Sands of Time.'"
She read it aloud:
SANDS OF TIME
Former mountain fortresses,
eroded by the sea:
the children now rebuild your grains
into tiny castles,
still threatened by the tides of change.
"Ooh, I like that," she murmured.
"From fortresses to tiny castles, eh?" I asked, smiling.
"Yeah. I never would have thought of that. That's really cool."
I was beaming, I'm sure. "Thank you. I'm glad you like it. Okay, so how does figurative language affect a reader's perception of a scene?"
She explained, "It makes me see a new perspective, something I might not see it on my own." She paused. "Like, I'll never look at the sand at the beach the same way after reading your poem."
"You've just summed up the very reason I write, B! So that I can change the way people see the world, even in a small way!"
Now she was beaming, too.
Handing her a selection of gorgeous landscape photos torn out of an old calendar, I asked her to write her own unique perspective on one of the scenes, focusing not on how it looks, but on what it looks LIKE. "Write your own metaphorical poem." She selected a photo of rolling green hills and wrote a first draft about Mother Nature covered by her thick green blanket, slowly shifting under the grassy fabric over time--a peaceful napping earth. I will remember her metaphor when I go hiking over the green hills near my home tomorrow morning!
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