I See Strange Things When I Walk (Day 22)

My daily walks are more than just exercise: they fill my mind with the very images that eventually end up in my stories.

On these walks I see things that I am certain no one else sees. I do not mean to say that I am particularly sharp-eyed and thus observe the things that others do not—no, I am quite the opposite, actually. What I do mean is that I see in things images that others would not see in them.

In my everyday life, this “trait” of mine can be quite detrimental. When giving directions, for instance, rather than referring to precise, objective things like streets names, I may say stupidities such as: “turn left when you see the building that looks like Frankenstein’s house,” leaving the driver bewildered and lost. However in writing, this trait can be a strength. Let’s see why.

When describing a character or a place, it is not so much the objective facts that are worthy of the reader’s attention, but rather the symbolic associations that attach themselves to the reader’s emotions. The writer needs to communicate the essence, and once that has been achieved, all additional detail is redundant, because the message has already been imparted.

I saw a proud, golden fleur-de-lys

I saw a proud, golden fleur-de-lys

When go for my long walks and look about my surroundings, strange emotional responses are elicited in me. Let me share one example with you right now. Look at this picture. What do you see? A tree, surely. How would you describe it? Tall? Golden leaves? In a park? Hampered by telephone wires? Near a bench?

This is what I saw today at the end of my walk, and it took my breath away. In the bright autumn sunlight I saw this poplar tree, its branches distorted due to a freak snowstorm the city got in the late summer. That is its objective reality.

But what did I really see? What was the emotional response that ran through my heart? I saw a great golden fleur-de-lys-shaped tree, shimmering majestically against a background of perfect blue sky. My mind was carried to the proud royal lilies of Florence and France. A million and one emotions flooded my heart as I made the association. All this because of a simple tree bent out of shape in a modest park.

My stylized description would not work if I were telling someone where to meet me [imagine me instructing you to “meet me by the golden fleur-de-lys”], but in a fictional story where symbolic associations are king, this could be something to consider.

We use metaphors not because we do not know the names of things, but because we are trying to evoke a certain reaction in the reader, one that will be essentially the same despite all of the differences of time, space, and culture between writer and reader.

Whether you are on the bus or in a national park, take the time to really look at the familiar sights that surround you. Besides their obvious, objective physical existence, what else do you see in them? It is a fun mental game, and one worth trying, if only for the sake of your art. Like the game of Essences, it gets you into the habit of describing one thing for another, which is the quintessence of constructing metaphors.