Metaphor is a Golden Thread by Pamela Mytroen
One of the biggest challenges I face as I write human interest stories is to weave the hundreds of little anecdotes and stories that a person, business, or concert provides into a cohesive piece.
I learned a strategy with the first piece I wrote for the newspaper—but not without some growing pains. The old gal was ninety-eight and fell asleep 15 minutes into the interview. After I rescheduled the visit, I came away with reams of fascinating but disjointed stories. What would I use for glue?
I worked and re-worked that piece, arranging the stories in one order and then another. Finally a common theme emerged: storms. She had moved to the Prairies as a small girl and spoke often about the storms that blew large black clouds over their farm. She also recounted serious trials endured by her family and neighbors. Using storms as metaphor, I was able to gather all her stories together into one idea. From one storm to the next, this lady blew through life. I used words and phrases like gusts, wind, tornadoes, storm clouds, sunshine after the rain, and rainbows to depict the various struggles of her life. Then there was a reason to keep reading: What storm would she endure next? And being that she was from Chicago, the Windy City, this metaphor was fortuitous!
I learned to use that golden thread from beginning to end.
• The golden thread is any commonality that will tie the facts and stories together. For example, a wartime airport near our town employed hundreds of people, and saw many emotional happenings from romance to reunions. It still serves as a runway for emergency medical flights. The theme tying together the scads of airplane anecdotes was “A Blessing in Disguise.”
• Title your piece with reference to your metaphor and your readers will engage. They will look for clues all the way through. For example, when interviewing a hair stylist, I discovered that she didn’t use ammonia in her salon, which was rare at the time. I titled the piece, “Something’s Missing at Shear Energy.” Every paragraph described one wonderful thing that was part of the salon (laughter, professionalism, family-like atmosphere, etc.), but they had to read to the end to find what was missing.
• Use your metaphor as a transitional tool. For example, another theme I used was “Reaping a Harvest of Customer Satisfaction” for an agricultural business. What might have been a boring list of products and services turned into a flowing narrative with the theme of customer satisfaction joining one paragraph to the next.
• Don’t abandon your golden thread for a different one. Otherwise, your piece will unravel. It may be tempting to introduce new colorful threads—or metaphors. I could have referred to the lady’s trials as a steam engine plowing her down or as bad weeds that kept popping up. These metaphors would have worked just fine with her era. The key is to choose one and stick with it to hold the piece together. One final example is a concert I reviewed. The crowd favourite was “True Colors” by Cindi Lauper. I titled it, “Cadence Shows Their True Colors,” and in my review, each member of the male quartet became a colour in the rainbow as I described their role, personality, and solos. I used adjectives like light, prism, shine, arch, storm, skies, peaceful, quiet, solitude, and so on in-keeping with the rainbow metaphor.
Spin your pieces with the golden thread of metaphor and watch how they glow from beginning to end.
Pamela Mytroen is an “English as an Additional Language Instructor” and “Language Assessor” in Saskatchewan. She loves baking, reading, and spending time with her family, which has grown to include a sweet grandson. She writes for her local newspaper and, as Acquisitions Editor for Fellowscript, she enjoys working with writers to see their ideas in print. Contact her at email@example.com