How To Show With Visual Metaphors
Hopefully, by now, your students are beginning to gain at least a smidgeon of confidence in storyshowing—or showing not telling—using simile and Dead Metaphor. Let them use all of the corny, hackneyed metaphors their young minds care to pull out; they can refine their skills over time. I don’t see any point in explaining about tenor and vehicle, the two aspects of metaphor, until, perhaps, high school.
Now let’s explore Visual Metaphors and get some practice using them and hopefully begin to use a few in creative writing. Another fun approach is to challenge your kids to try to use metaphor in their day-to-day conversations; perhaps, 3 times within a week, or once a day. As they begin to become familiar with using them, their understanding of the concepts will grow exponentially.
A technical definition of a visual metaphor is
“The representation of a person, place, thing, or idea by way of a visual image that suggests a particular association or point of similarity.”
So let’s jump in with teaching “show don’t tell” with visual metaphors, shall we? Your students aren’t likely to have the benefit of actual pictures in their stories—we’re hoping to teach them how to “show and not tell” with words, after all—so encourage them to continue practicing LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and FIND.
Here’s a refresher on LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and FIND:
• LOOK for “ The Secret Story.”
• ASK why things are the way they are.
• DECIDE on reasons for why things PROBABLY are the way they are.
• FIND words to explain how your decisions make sense.
Some examples of visual metaphors could be…
• A sports car with a cheetah lounging on the hood, suggesting the “wildness” and speed of the sports car is comparable to the cheetah.
• The image of a “family tree.”
• A white dove associated with Peace.
• The symbols on your remote control indicating Play, Rewind, Fast-Forward, and Stop, are all visual metaphors.
• One your kids are probably familiar with is the cartoon character looking angry, a dark cloud overhead.
• Everyone is familiar with the image of a light bulb, lit up, over someone’s head as representing that person having just gotten a “bright idea” [“bright idea” is a visual metaphor in word form.]
• The red octagon without the word “Stop” printed across the color field is a visual metaphor that has become pretty much universal for that action [Stop] along roadways around the world.
Let’s take one of those and see if we can’t “show” and bring about understanding that conjures up vivid visual imagery in our minds. I like the cartoon character example for our development study; it provides a captivating image to begin with, to keep kids interested, and there are lots of details we can borrow from nature that children should be able to comprehend. Again, I suggest creating with simile first, keeping LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and FIND…in mind.
Simile: Jim’s mood was like a black, threatening rain cloud.
Simile: Jim’s thoughts were like a thick, dark forest at night.
Simile: Jim’s attitude cleared up like the sun breaking through the clouds.
Dead [Visual] Metaphor: Jim’s face brightened.
Now let’s improve that metaphor a little bit at a time. Get your students to imagine—in this instance—a boy [named Jim] with a look on his face like he was unhappy, but then suddenly something happened to make him happy. Then, have your students apply LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and FIND; you might turn the LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and FIND steps into a poster that remains on your classroom wall so students can readily go over the steps until they become second nature to them.
LOOK for Jim’s Secret Story. What might his face look like BEFORE he gets his idea? Maybe Jim could look perplexed, bored, frustrated, or sad. ASK questions to explore possibilities. DECIDE what Jim’s Secret Story is, and—in this case—what’s causing his mood. Reaching these conclusions will greatly assist your students in FIND-ing words to describe what they will write. You might also need to help them with ASK-ing probing questions to discover (or create) the depth of Jim’s Secret Story.
So Jim’s Secret Story might be revealed something like this:
1. Jim’s mood was a gathering storm.
2. Jim’s eyes were heavy thunderclouds.
3. Jim’s dark expression brightened.
4. Jim’s stormy mood blew away.
That’s probably enough for now. Let’s combine those elements for a vivid image that really shows. And since we’re graduating our students, so to speak, from simile to metaphor, why not incorporate some simile in our “finished product” to help out with our storyshowing?
Here’s what I have thrown together:
Jim’s frustration was a dark haze gathering into a threatening storm; his eyes were like heavy rainclouds ready to burst. But then, all of the sudden, the thick fog seemed to lift, the thunderclouds in his mind were burned away by a bright thought, like the sun breaking up dark and frightening thunderheads.
This example should cause your students to ask even more questions; the most logical being, what thought did Jim have to change his mood so suddenly? I don’t expect kids to come up with something so…intense as this, but I just wanted to show how various, observed [FOUND/DECIDED] upon elements can be included in the showing.
You might want to get your kids started on this by showing some common, visual metaphors—maybe even display some posters or other pictures—and then help them think of as many as possible; drilling on these will awaken an awareness in your students, and they’ll begin to notice metaphor(s) all over the place! Children are intelligent; they just need some stimulation to get started!
Next up: Conventional and Creative Metaphors.