I am an artist, the daughter of an artist. So for me, painting metaphors as applied to writing come naturally--painting in details with a large or small brush, writing with an artist's eye, among others.
I have a friend who's a painter. When she looks at things, she imagines what colors she would use to paint them. Usually they're colors I wouldn't have thought of using--while I'm an artist, I don't have the depth of understanding of color and what you can do with it that she does. She's a fantastic artist, too. She knows her tools, and she uses them very, very well.
Writing is an artform. The tools are basic--we use them in everyday life, when we communicate with others. Words have their basic forms, just as colors stem from the primaries of red and blue and yellow (or green, if you're working with light), but there are also endless shades of meaning, and a large and ever-growing vocabulary to choose from. English is a living language, always changing, even if we don't particularly like that the things we learned in our youth are being pushed aside for newer things. To learn to use it well, we have to study it, study its structure, study the various shades and colors of it. When we know what our tools can do, then we can concentrate more readily on forming pictures with them.
Imagine that you're sitting in a crowded plaza, watching people pass by. There are sounds, footsteps on pavement, the rustle of fabrics, voices pitched high or low or somewhere in between, bursts of laughter in the forms of giggles and deep-chested guffaws. There are smells--perhaps there are food vendors nearby, filling the air with the scents of pizza and hotdogs, or spicy Mexican foods, and perhaps your plaza is somewhere near the ocean, so the air also carries the scents of water and fish. It's mid-day, and the sky is mostly clear, with small white clouds moving lazily past, high overhead. The sun warms your arms and face, and your dark t-shirt absorbs the heat, making your shoulders and torso comfortably hot. Men, women, and children pass in pairs or in family groups, couples strolling hand in hand, children laughing and playing games, or chasing one another across the plaza. Colors are bright, red, turquoise, yellow, white, intensified by the sunlight. A breeze stirs the hair at your temples and on your forearms. A ship's bell rings, the sound reaching you clearly across the water. Gulls wheel overhead, raucously demanding a handout.
Can you see this place? What words would you use to describe it? Try writing it down. When you've finished, put it aside for a while, then go back and reread it. Have you accurately recreated what you experienced?
Word art has a particular advantage--In recreating a setting, a scene, a character's experiences, you have the ability not only to paint in what is visible to the eye, you can paint in the character's thoughts and feelings in a way that will enhance your picture and make your reader feel that he or she has actually been there and experienced the story with your character. Sensory input other than just the visual makes things real to your reader. Practice it. Like learning to paint, it takes time to get it right, but it's well worth the effort.
Remember that, just as splashes of bright color can be jarring in a painting in subdued tones, words used outside their proper context will jar your reader. Choose your words carefully. Big words are exciting, but they may not be your best choice. Simpler is better when you're choosing what shade to use. Complexity may please you, but it may distract your reader so that he or she sees that bright patch to the exclusion of the rest of your painting.
Finished for now...until next time.
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