Category: Reading Page 1 of 4

5 Tips for Using Literal and Metaphorical Language, Part V (conclusion): Always Remember Context

  TIP #5 Use context to recognize, understand, and interpret literal and metaphorical language.

Historical, social, cultural, and biblical contexts are essential for understanding literal and metaphorical elements in speech and writing. Accurate understanding should come before interpretation!

A cropped photo automatically demands interpretation, zeroing in on details the user wants to emphasize while excluding others. In a close-up of young children searching the ground, viewers might wonder what they’re doing, Is someone making them work? Have they lost something?

contrast to cropped image

The full view shows a pumpkin patch, revealing that what could have been a scene for concern is actually a fun seasonal activity as they retrieve their rings for the Bottle Toss.

Interpretation occurs everywhere humans communicate, with family and friends, social media, neighborhood, church, or workplace.

Language and human experience are inextricably connected. Within a culture, people share many common reference points: history, background, arts, stories, symbols, celebrations, beliefs, and values. Yet misunderstandings or differences of opinion occur frequently. Some produce laughter, others confusion, hurt feelings, angry outbursts or even violence. The more important a subject, the more problematic differences of interpretation become.

EXAMPLES from children’s stories

You Are Special (Max Lucado) presents a message popular in many children’s books today, with one critical difference. Secular authors tell children their self-worth is based on themselves: “I’m enough as I am,” says Charlie Mackesy in The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. While this sounds comforting, the claim has no underlying foundation. Lucado’s message based on Christian context adds the missing element: “You are special because I [God] made you. And I don’t make mistakes.”

In Ramona the Pest, Ramona’s mention of “The Dawnzer Lee Light” song seems ridiculous to her fifth-grade sister. But in kindergarten context, misunderstanding the words of the national anthem is perfectly understandable.

Connections to children’s real lives

Stories describing war offend some adults. Some reject historical acts or attitudes that don’t fit their 21st-century ideas. We may want to shelter children from harsh realities. The truth is that many children today face dysfunction, even violence. Stories about love, safety, and God’s provision are important. We also want to bring children the message that God is real, good, and loving even if their environment lacks love, safety, or basic needs.

Context is essential. Stories about ideal families, neighborhoods, or schools may not seem genuine to kids who experience conflicts in those settings. What is our audience for the specific message of a book or article? Real readers meet our characters and situations, hear their voices, and imagine themselves in these worlds. Our own imagination unconnected to real problems in kids’ worlds may offer escapism – but not the gospel truth calling us to be “in the world but not of the world.”

Writing, reading, and interpreting stories

Some teach that “art” has no right or wrong meaning – a song, poem, story, or picture means whatever the audience thinks or feels. In matters of personal taste, we may agree that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Leaving a work’s main theme open to any interpretation is another matter.

A story portraying sibling rivalry(or differences) may include unkind comments, plots to undermine one another, jealousy, adults’ favoritism, and trivial or tragic consequences. It might encourage readers to change their own attitudes and behavior even if an offending person does not. Missing context, however, might lead readers to negative interpretations:

  • leave the story believing only their sibling needs to change
  • side with one character against the other, wishing the story ended with revenge
  • miss applications to their own relationships from the culture or time period described
  • fail to empathize with characters, their motivations and feelings
  • miss hints that characters aware of problems, but not directly involved, may need to help
  • internalize and magnify pain portrayed in the story, to the point of harming themselves

[For stories with contrasting depictions of a brother’s attitude and actions toward an older or younger brother, see Much Bigger Than Martin, by Steven Kellogg and There’s Nothing to Do, by James Stevenson.]

Building context clues

We can’t control what readers take away from our stories. However, without preaching or too much “telling,” authors have tools for providing important context.

  • Characters (fictional or historical) may discover more about their own situation, finding old photos, records, previously unknown facts. Encourage readers to look beneath the surface.
  • Figurative language – narrative patterns, rhythms, sound devices, and tone — show connections between situations and characters’ feelings.
  • Symbols, analogies, and sensory description — promote awareness and empathy.
  • Irony, pathos, or humor — illustrate problems, encourage critical thinking, or help relieve tension
  • Literary, biblical, or cultural allusions — show constructive comparisons.
  • When misinterpretations or lies bring negative consequences, people and events let characters recognize their mistakes. Help readers examine their own interpretations.
  • Characters struggle with conscience as they say, do, or plot wrong responses. Help kids reconsider their own thoughts and actions.
  • Characters find “kindred spirits” who turn out to be false friends. Show the need to test before trusting.
  • Feelings of hopelessness (no choices or power) change as characters find resources like supportive people, faith in God, or hear another person’s story of escape.
  • Situations where restitution and reconciliation can begin may help readers consider these steps.
  • Characters who accept or reject good advice can remind kids to consider opinions besides their own.
  • Real or fictional stories featuring “lemons to lemonade” approaches can help kids look for options.

Series takeaway

Interpretation occurs in all forms of communication. To avoid misinterpreting (and responding wrongly), we should check our first assumptions about what another person has written or said. Do we understand correctly, or are we interpreting through a flawed lens of our own experiences without recognizing theirs? How can we improve our own interpretive skills as well as help young audiences we write for develop theirs? Writing and reading thrive as we become good communicators and audiences of literal and figurative language. We’d love to hear your stories of context and interpretation in comments below or on our social media: Facebook Write2Ignite Conference page, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

 

5 Tips for Using and Understanding Literal and Metaphorical Language, Part IV

TIP#4 Recognize valid situations where literal and metaphorical meanings co-exist.

Statements may have both literal and metaphorical meanings without being ambiguous, equivocal, or contradictory.

Acronyms and acrostics, homonyms and antonyms, sound devices like alliteration and rhyme, humor, and even puns, function as literal content and also as helpful memory aids. Today’s icons, emoticons, GIFs, and memes combine devices like humor, symbol, and satire as communication shortcuts We see these in a wide variety of settings, from personal message to social media posts, advertising, and meetings.

Literal and metaphorical fusion in a class children’s tale

In Winnie-the-Pooh, Christopher Robin and his animal friends set off on an “expotition” [sic] to find the North Pole. It soon becomes apparent that they have no idea what this geographic “pole” literally is. They envision an object “stuck in the ground.” Amid this lighthearted fun at young children’s innocent misinterpretation, the group’s conclusion that they have, in fact, discovered the pole is not only a literal event but also a symbolic one.

When Roo falls into the river and is swept downstream, Pooh finds a long pole to use in rescuing him. Afterward, the characters decide that they’ve accomplished their mission. Placing the pole in the ground, they name it the “North Pole” and label it with a sign attributing its discovery to Pooh. Its metaphorical significance, however, is twofold. First, it affirms the value of Pooh’s quick thinking despite his often being characterized as a “bear of little brain.” Second, it commemorates the group’s efforts to save a friend in danger. The North Pole, a literal point of geographic orientation, also frequently symbolizes an ideal destination. A. A. Milne fuses both meanings in this delightful tale.

Biblical teaching models

Numerous examples of “both/and” meanings exist in Scripture. Referring to the history of God’s covenant with Abraham, Paul explains its spiritual significance. He uses the term “allegory” in Galatians 4 to show differences between law and grace, referring to both old and new covenants and “Jerusalem.”

In Ephesians 5, Paul describes God’s design for husband-wife relationships as literal practice, but also refers allegorically in v. 32 to “Christ and the Church.”

Claims and counter-claims often focus on interpretation of literal situations, but many lead also to metaphorical expression.

  • Pharisees called Jesus a literal commandment-breaker when He healed people on the Sabbath. He stated His actual purpose to fulfill God’s law and commandments.
  • The gospel encounter when Jesus insisted that children be allowed to come to Him leads to a teaching point. As these children come to God in faith, believers of all ages must recognize their need to seek God as their Father.
  • He supplies a bountiful catch of literal fish, and calls the disciples to become “fishers of men.”

Applying biblical models in children’s and YA stories

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress uses allegory to retell the gospel as a quest journey in his own culture’s terms. Each character, place, and event represents a biblical parallel, with Christian recognizing his overpowering guilt and need to get rid of his sin “burden” as family and neighbors oppose his determination to set off for the Celestial City. At each stop along the way, readers share Christian’s experiences and find a new insight into faith, hope, doubt, failure, or commitment.

Max Lucado uses allegorical and symbolic elements to deliver literal truth in You Are Special. Stars and dots represent good and bad opinions people express about others, including the main character, Punchinello. He meets Lucia, who is immune to these “stickers” because she ignores them, instead forming her opinion of herself directly from Eli, the Maker. Her name, which means “light,” symbolizes wisdom and freedom found in the truth of God’s Word.

Questions for writers

Do stories you read or write treat literal and metaphorical references as mutually exclusive? How can children’s and YA literature help readers recognize situations in which one person, event, or object that has actually existed or happened, has added significance? Do you have a favorite example? We welcome your comments or questions below, on social media, or email: info.write2ignite@gmail.com

 

 

Reading With My Mom

I’ve been working from home for 21 weeks. This prolonged period of isolation has given me time to reflect on happier times in life: adventures and excitement in college, friendships forged in high school, and time spent reading with my mom as a child.

Those were the good days — Mom reading to me and my brother as we snuggled up in my parents’ king-size bed, piled high with pillows and blankets.

Though we were capable of reading titles like Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Boxcar Children and Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew, we preferred to have Mom read them to us. We’d go to the local used bookstore weekly to find new titles and were excited to find the numbers missing from our collection.

hope and honesty

Barking with The Big Dogs: Hope and Honesty for Children

“It is necessary to be hopeful to write successfully for children, yes, because children themselves are generically hopeful, but the quality of hopefulness is not an immature quality.” -Natalie Babbitt ( pp 42)

Natalie Babbitt’s book Barking with the Big Dogs is a collection of her essays and speeches written over several years. In all the various topics she focuses on, from types of fantasies to critical thinking to childhood itself, there are two major themes that pop up repeatedly: hope and honesty.

Hope is woven into the very nature of children’s books. Babbitt kicks off with an essay on happy endings and explains that children’s literature contains a quality of joy adult fiction lacks. In fantasy for kids, the belief that the world can and will be better is proven true. What is a happy ending if not a proof of hope? The villain can be defeated, the ordinary child can be a hero, and the world can be saved. Hope and optimism reign in children’s literature.

Does this mean that children’s books must present utopias?

Absolutely not. Natalie Babbitt claims that when authors try to write perfect worlds, they instead create worlds that are, “patently artificial, a placebo, lacking. . . consistency with the author’s philosophy” (37). In order to escape the one-dimensional depictions of life, Babbitt explains that authors need to write with “as much honesty and skill as we can muster,” (40).

She argues that we need to write stories that have flawed characters and flawed worlds, because flaws are part of human nature. But she also writes that we need to write authentically within our worldview. If we try to write what we don’t believe, we rob our stories of depth.

Herein lies the important message for Christian authors. For Christians, a huge part of writing truthfully is writing hopefully. Hope and honesty go hand in hand for us.

Natalie Babbitt misses this connection between the two. She writes, “it seems a peculiarly contradictory thing for the Bible to say in one place that truth is liberating when in another place it puts hope on a level with faith and charity. . . For hope and truth don’t always go together” (108).

However, hope and honesty are inseparable.

As Christians, the truth we cling to is our hope. God overcomes our greatest fears with His power and promises. The hope of eternity stands in defiance to death, the promise of God’s provision quiets our daily worries, and prayer itself brings us to God’s throne when we face trials.

Babbitt views as a contradiction something she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t recognize a solid hope. Her hope seems to be simply defined as the belief in possibility. She writes, “Life is infinitely more interesting when we can believe in the possibility of something wonderful just over the next hill” (110).

For Christians, hope is so much deeper. We know that something wonderful lies over the next hill. We know that the God of the universe is sustaining His creation. The son of God came to bring us life, and He’s coming again soon. His resurrection is the promise that everything broken will be renewed. A new heaven, a new earth, and a life forever with Him. What greater hope could we ask for?

Therefore, since we have such hope, the only honest way we can write is with that same joy. Hope and honesty should define Christian fiction.

Perhaps more than any other authors, we have the ability to write happy endings authentically. We believe in the greatest happy ending the world will ever know. The ultimate defeat of evil, ordinary people chosen by God for great tasks, and the world forever saved.

As we enter Easter week, may we reflect on the incredible hope that Jesus has brought to the world. May our hope and honesty in our writing be a light in the darkness.

Book Review:

What about the book itself? Natalie Babbitt’s essay collection wasn’t what I expected. While the essays usually focus on discussions around children’s literature, they also tap into Babbitt’s philosophy on life. Her words are instructional at times, but are more personal at others. If you choose to read this book, pick it up as an opportunity to hear the perspective of a fellow author. You’ll learn far more from her words if you view it as a conversation rather than as a lesson.

Overall, I give her book 3  1/2 out of  5 stars. She makes some strong points, but there are still lulls in the book, as well as points that seem out of place or repetitive.

Social-Distancing for Writers

social-distancing for writers

This week has been a turning point for the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. Many governors have enacted stay-at-home-orders, New York is erecting temporary field hospitals, and American manufacturers have pledged to build ventilators and protective equipment. All of this made me wonder: what does social-distancing for writers look like?

As writers, we often gain our inspiration from traveling, visiting historic sites, attending cultural events, and spending time with friends. Those things are not possible right now. Coffee with friends is limited to a FaceTime call and Google Earth is the only safe form of travel.

Social-distancing may be easy for some. And while working from home in your pajamas and watching Netflix all weekend seems like a welcome break from the usual pace of life, one can only handle so many hours of mind-numbing indulgence. Here are some tips to help writers be good stewards of their social-distancing time:

Self-Betterment

Reading

Take time for professional development, research, or inspiration — read books you’ve been wanting to read, listen to podcasts from inspirational writers or speakers, and take advantage of free online learning.

Whether you’re interested in developing your writing skills, learning about the publication process, researching for your own writing, or gleaning inspiration from fiction, take this social-distancing time as an opportunity to catch up on your reading.

Listening

There is a podcast for everything these days — from true crime to daily news updates to radio dramas. Here are two of my personal favorites that tell true stories and encourage me to see the world as a place full of opportunity and ideas:

  • This American Life — One of the most popular podcasts in the United States, This American Life shares true stories from Americans. Each episode is laid out in a three-act format and focuses on one central theme. One of my favorite episodes is set in my town of Lynchburg, Virginia, and tells the story of seven black students who integrated into an all-white boarding school in the late 1960s.
  • Criminal — Not for the faint of heart, Criminal tells true-crime stories in 30 minutes. The soft-spoken, inquisitive host — Phoebe Judge — tells true stories ranging from kidnappings to murder mysteries. Each episode also features original artwork!

Online Learning

If you enjoy learning new skills or knowledge, consider taking a free online class or watching a Ted Talk. Depending on how you like to learn, there are a variety of ways you can learn online.

  • Sites like Coursera offer traditional online courses that provide a structured, classroom-style environment. You can take courses from some of the country’s top colleges and companies.
  • If you prefer a more laid-back learning environment, sites like SkillShare provide video-based courses on a variety of topics. These courses are taught by professionals in the field. Students can even share their work with each other for feedback. While this is not a free service, you can sign up for a two-month free trial to occupy you during this time of social distancing.
  • Ted is a nonprofit dedicated to sharing ideas about technology, entertainment, and design. Ted Talks are usually presented at conferences and are available on YouTube and the Ted website. Search the Ted database for talks on any topic that sparks your interest.

Writing

social-distancing for writersIf you do not already have a writing routine built into your schedule, this time of social distancing is an opportunity to establish a writing discipline. Pick a time during your day to just sit down and write. You don’t have to work on a project or even write with intention. Just take some time to put a pen to paper or your fingers to keys and flex your writing muscle.

I’ve found the best way to exercise my writing muscle is to do “sprints.” Set a timer for five or ten minutes and write without stopping to edit or review. This sense of urgency allows me to write without my usual self-censorship. Some of my best work has come from “sprinting.”

Self-Care

social-distancing for writers

My governor ordered a stay-at-home order until June 10, so I will be spending a lot of time at home.

Practice self-care for writers: meditate, pray, practice yoga, or go for a walk.

By the grace of God, I’m still employed and am working from home. Though my workday is as busy as ever, I no longer have to budget time during my day for the commute to and from work, and I’m home for my lunch breaks. This gives me an additional hour and a half each day! I’ve opted to practice self-care during the time I spend at home.

Meditation and prayer are two things I’ve focused on over the past two weeks. My favorite spot to meditate and pray is my deck, which faces a treeline. I put down my exercise mat and lay on my back with my arms by my sides. Taking time to notice the noises — my wind chimes singing, birds chirping, and bees bumbling — and enjoying time away from the barrage of COVID-19 updates has really improved my mood. This is also a wonderful opportunity for prayers, either silently or aloud.

social-distancing for writers

Light activity like stretching, yoga, or walking has improved my moods and posture and decreased back pain from sitting all day.

Yoga or stretching helps with the stiffness and pain that comes with sitting at a desk. If I’m feeling stiff, I’ll either do some basic stretches or follow an instructional video on YouTube. My favorite video right now is called “Yoga for Writers” from Yoga With Adriene.

This week, my governor instated a stay-at-home order, which only allows me to leave home for groceries, medical appointments, family visits, and outdoor recreation (with appropriate social-distancing). Thankfully, my apartment complex has a short walking trail, so I’ve been able to go for walks during my breaks throughout the day. I’ve found that I have more energy to continue my workday when I go for a walk during my lunch break.

These are suggestions based on what I’ve found works for me. I hope this was helpful to you! Tell me how you’re spending your time social-distancing in the comments or on social media — I’d love to hear from you.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. — Romans 15:13

Page 1 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén