Tag: writing for children and teens Page 1 of 3

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

 

 

Write2Ignite

Reflections from a Fiction Master Class

Write2Ignite

 

 

 

 

 

Our logo truly became a reality to me last Saturday as I attended the online Fiction Master Class taught by the gifted Joyce Moyer Hostetter. Not only has she written a popular MG Historical fiction series, but she is able to impart her knowledge of writing to her students in a simple and engaging way.

Researching for Historical Fiction in Bath, UK

I had the privilege of visiting England the last week of February — one of my favorite destinations before the coronavirus situation became a deterrent for travel.  I am so grateful! Since I am a historical fiction author, researching the location in person is a real treat, as you can imagine!

The day after I arrived in the UK, and before my week-long intensive Bible course began (the main reason for my visit), my teen friend Mariah and I headed to Bath on a local train to do a bit of research at Sally Lunn’s. During my last visit, I discovered a tidbit of information that led me to write about Sally. More later . . .

The Sally Lunn bun (the size of large hamburger buns, but with the texture of brioche) was excellent — worth risking a reaction to my gluten intolerance. I couldn’t come to Bath without enjoying one! I would describe it as the best hamburger bun you have ever tasted. Hopefully, that’s not offensive to a Brit. Here is a pic of my daughter five years ago when we first experienced this culinary delight. In my story, which I tentatively have titled, “Soli’s Saving Grace,” I bring to light a purely fictional crisis that inspired her to create her bun recipe.

The top of the bun is on the right, and the bottom section is on Olivia’s plate. It is so large, that you must use a knife and fork. Since the bun is as light as a feather, it is no problem to eat both parts in one sitting.

This time, I asked for both. Although the server happily agreed, she seemed a bit perplexed. Evidently, very few people ask for both. Leave it to the Americans to want more! Isn’t this a lovely tearoom? You can feel the history seeping out of the walls.

We finished our lovely meal and headed down to the basement, where a small museum is located. I wanted to revisit the tiny historic exhibition which inspired me five years ago. At that time I found a little sign tacked into a wooden cabinet. It noted Sally Lunn was probably a Huguenot girl named Solange Luyon. That tidbit of information is all I needed to let my imagination run wild! Hopefully, someday, you will read Soli’s story in print.

Next, we visited Bath Abbey, where my character, Soli, flees for refuge. Last time I was in Bath, we were not able to tour it, so I was thrilled when I realized it was possible!

 

So, my reason for visiting the Abbey, other than enjoying the architectural beauty, was to ask a question: Did the Bath Abbey indeed offer refuge for Huguenots who came knocking (did they?) at their enormously imposing wooden doors?

The card given to me by the priest

I found a priest who had time to chat with me. I was surprised to discover he had Huguenot roots himself. Small world! But, unfortunately, he wasn’t able to answer my question. But he did refer me to the archivist who works at the Abbey, and on my way out, I was given a card.

Just what I needed. Now that I have all this time on my hands, due to the #covid-19 crisis, I will email him this week. Who knows what that will uncover!

So, that was my short day trip to Bath for research — quick but productive.  If you are interested, here is a link to my blogpost about my trip to Charleston, SC for Huguenot research.

For a more in-depth look at the city of Bath see my blogpost.

I have two questions for you:

Which era of history is the most fascinating to you?

How is the Covid Crisis affecting your writing habits?

I’d love to read your comments below!

 

Site Changes Underway: Pardon our construction!

   Write2Ignite Conference is in the process of updating our website with the addition of e-store functions, in order to facilitate online payments for books, critique services, webinars, conferences, or other programs and products. In the process, we’ve discovered that our previous design templates appear to be incompatible with the e-commerce plugin. As we work through design adjustments, we know that our website appearance has changed temporarily in ways we didn’t design. Bear with us, please! And watch for future announcements about programming, resources, new bloggers, and our finished website and store design!

Page 1 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén