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5 Tips for Using and Understanding Literal and Figurative Language Part I

Tip #1: Use clear definitions and illustrations to distinguish literal from metaphorical.

For writers and readers alike, understanding the terms literal and figurative (metaphorical) is essential: what do they actually mean? And how can we distinguish the way language is being used, whether in conversation, on social media, in literature, in advertisements, in business documents, in poetry, or in the Bible?

Recognizing the type of language used in any text or conversation is an essential skill

  1. LITERAL language represents a physical or actual being, object, process, event, idea, or statement (process: sterilization, event: celebration; idea: E=MC2 ; etc.).

EXAMPLES: “I saw a heron fly up from the creek one morning last winter.”(statement/event)

  • CHAIR – an object (furniture) to sit on
  • FOX: a mammal with four legs, red or gray fur, a long, pointed snout, and a bushy tail.
  • KING: a man with political authority over a country or region; he is treated with respect by his subjects and ambassadors from other nations. He may have inherited his kingship, taken it by force, or received it by agreement of those he governs. Bible references to God or Jesus as King are literal claims of His rightful authority to rule.
  • EGGSHELLS: the hard, thin outer covering of a bird’s or other animal’s egg.
  1. METAPHORICAL language represents a concept, idea, or experience using figures of speech which people in a cultural group recognize. Examples include symbol, embellished language, simile, formal [ceremonial] language, humor, sarcasm, exaggeration, understatement, irony, satire, etc.

EXAMPLES: “the wild, light, slender bird that floats and wavers, and goes back like an arrow presently to his home in the green world beneath.  [“A White Heron” -Sarah Orne Jewett] simile

  • CHAIR: “My chair gave me two new projects this week.” We recognize that furniture is not bossing someone around. Here, CHAIR means a person in charge of a company or department, who can give orders because of the position of authority that person holds.
  • FOX: Jesus (when told that Herod wanted to see Him) said, “Go tell that fox . . . “

Why does Jesus call Herod a fox? Foxes’ stealthy behavior gives them a reputation of being sneaky. Calling someone a fox indicates that person shouldn’t be trusted

  • KING: In the game checkers, a piece that crosses the board to the back row of the opponent’s side becomes a “King,” with extra power to move and change direction. A player whose piece reaches this point says, “King me!” The player hasn’t become a ruler, but the king reference symbolizes the increased power of the player’s doubled piece.

A celebrity who is acknowledged as the first or best in an art form or sport may be called “King of . . . “ Jazz, Rock and Roll, etc. [or simply, as with Elvis, “the King.” ]

  • EGGSHELLS: People complain about having to “walk on eggshells.” Children might picture someone walking on a broken egg with or without shoes (‘yuck” and ouch”). What we mean is a sensitive person or situation that we’re trying not to make worse by something we say or do.

Seeing literal and figurative language in books for young children

Writers for very young children work mostly with literal language, helping children learn basic vocabulary. Some board and picture books simply show words and pictures of objects, actions, and people. Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb (Al Perkins, Eric Gurney), depicts various functions these body parts can do and introduces plurals and number concepts (one thumb, two thumbs, one or more monkeys) . . . [https://vimeo.com/54193963 ]

Inside, Outside, Upside Down, by Stan and Jan Berenstain, illustrates prepositions and adverbs like in, out, inside, outside, over and under Pictures show different positions of objects or persons and objects in relation to each other.

Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman, begins with literal words like “Go” and “Stop” before moving on to humorous, fictional, and more abstract concepts as dogs drive cars, ride skateboards, and end up partying in a huge tree house.

Ramona the Pest, by Beverly Cleary, reveals problems caused by literal/metaphorical confusion for five-year-old Ramona. One literal situation that turns out well, though, comes when Ramona allows her neighbor and classmate, Howie, to remove a back wheel of her tricycle. Initially skeptical that this will ruin her trike, she accepts Howie’s assertion that she will have a “two-wheeler,” and careens, zooms, and balances on her newly modified ride.

Other episodes focus on Ramona’s imagination, assumptions, or misinterpretations of what grown-ups say. Ramona herself feels constantly misunderstood as the youngest child in her family. Rejecting anything she thinks makes her look “babyish,” she nonetheless emphasizes her individuality by putting a tail, ears, and whiskers on the “Q” of her last name.Her teacher’s direction to “Sit here for the present” results in a standoff when Ramona refuses to budge until she sees “the present.”

Do kids really need to interpret literal or metaphorical concepts?

We introduce children to imagination and figurative language with humor and games: puns, teasing, peek-a-boo, “let’s pretend,” hide and seek. Most children’s books include these elements, which children enjoy. Through them, they learn to deal with experiences like separation or loss, social interaction and complexity, interpreting differences in tone, facial expression, situations, and words. The combined input of words and personal interaction helps children acquire language skills and distinguish literal from metaphorical usage.

When you read to kids or discuss stories with them, do they demonstrate awareness of differences in literal or metaphorical language? What stories or activities help kids learn how to distinguish figures of speech from literal language? We’d love to see your comments here, on our social media, or email info.write2ignite@gmail.com .

Classic Keys for Writing for Children

The Four R's

If you’re like me, you probably have bookshelves crammed with books. Too many to keep and too precious to give away. As I look through my bookcases, I enjoy finding a long-forgotten treasure. Even better, on occasion I’ll make a new discovery—a book that made it onto the shelf without being read.

I recently came across a gem I first read more than twenty years ago: Wes Haystead’s Teaching Your Child About God, published by Regal Books in 1995. Haystead talked about the four “R’s”—relationship, relevance, repetition, and realization in teaching children.

I believe these four “R’s” are equally important in our writing.

  1. Relationship:
    Haystead noted parents who live out their faith for their children to see will more effectively communicate spiritual truth to them.
    As writers, we usually don’t have the opportunity to form relationships with our individual readers. Still, a type of relationship does form as readers relate to our content and decide they enjoy certain authors. How we write can either facilitate this relationship or become a barrier to it. Barriers might include being preachy or failing to use age-appropriate vocabulary.
  2. Relevance:
    Relevance is another important aspect of teaching children and it’s equally important in writing for children.
    Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, do you use illustrations familiar to your readers’ frame of reference? A helpful tool is the Mindset List. This annual list includes what has “always” or “never” been true for entering college students—a good reminder for those of us who can remember a way of life that is merely history for our readers!
  3. Repetition:
    Haystead included repetition as a critical component of the learning process.
    In our blogs, short stories, and books, we don’t want to repeat ourselves. But we can share truth and demonstrate it in multiple ways. Bible passages with varied translations, stories that illustrate our points, and quotes are just some of the ways we can reinforce the points we make.
  4. Realization:
    The fourth “R” Haystead includes is realization—acknowledging that children learn from their experiences.
    The more our writing relates to our readers’ experiences, hopes, and dreams, the more they will connect with our fiction and nonfiction. Do we include references they can relate to because they’ve lived it or want to live it? How does what we write relate to their experience.

By incorporating the concepts of relationship, relevance, repetition, and realization into our writing, we can increase the chances of our readers connecting with us and our books!

How are you including the four R’s in your writing for children?

Author Interviews III: Sandy Carlson’s First Self-Publishing Experience

Author Sandy Carlson was born in Michigan, lived in six other states, and now resides in Michigan again. A former elementary teacher, Carlson is a blogger and a long-time member of SCBWI. She’s published in magazines, e-zines, newspapers, and anthologies, in addition to being the author of historical fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction books. Today, she writes, speaks, and tutors dyslexic kids. Here, she contributes her insights to our W2I self-publishing series.

  1. What book did you first publish using a self-publishing provider or system? The Town That Disappeared (Genre: Middle grades historical fiction. Target age group: 3rd–7th-grade readers; leveled at T [5th-grade reading] with F&P.)
  2. What publisher or system did you use? CreateSpace
  3. When was the book published, and how long did the project take from start to finish? Town was published in 2013, but the idea came eight years earlier from a woman who lived in that area, where sometimes there would be a roof exposed in the sand dunes, and other days would be another, or none. Mostly, my time was spent in researching the era and area.
  4. How many self-publishing companies did you investigate? Three (3)
  5. What factors led to your choice? CreateSpace seemed simplest to understand, and the cheapest.
  6. How many up-front costs did you incur to publish your book? In my research, I traveled several times to the area for a full day each time. I paid $150 for the cover illustration and design. There was the S&H on the POD book copies. I was so hopeful lots would sell, I first purchased more than I needed. (For later books, the same illustrator now costs twice that, and I have a freelance editor from NY going over my stories for . . . $300–$500 per manuscript, but both are well worth it. I learned how to do my own formatting, but CreateSpace has employees who can do that for [a fee].
  7. How long did it take to recoup these costs (if you have), or what’s the projected time frame to recover them? I recouped the cost of Town that first year, but as prices go up, I don’t expect that for other books.
  8. How much control did you maintain over the process (editing, revision choices, cover design, illustrations, book type setup (font, size of print, etc.), book description for marketing purposes, etc.)? I had total control. It was tough. It was time-consuming. But I couldn’t afford to publish any other way.
  9. Did you hire a professional or use services provided by the self-publishing company for any of the following?
  • Cover design: Yes
  • Illustrations: N/A
  • Editing: Not for Town, but for later books
  • Layout/design: Yes
  1. Did the self-publishing company (if used) provide software services to create book files for printing or e-book conversion of your manuscript? It was easy to paste in my story.
  2. What software or process was used? I have no clue.
  3. Did you do the typing in this system, or was it provided by the company? I typed it. I then “poured” (uploaded) my manuscript into their format (which I was able to choose).
  4. If you purchased software yourself, what was the product? What was the cost? N/A
  5. How much learning curve and time were required for the typing/file preparation? For that first book, it took months. And then I realized that the final print was not what I had uploaded because, apparently, I’d used two different paragraph tags, and the pages looked so ragged.
  6. How many books (if print) did you have printed initially? Did you use/are you using print-on-demand? I printed 100 copies for the first time. Because this is a POD company, I have learned to order only 20 copies at a time before I do a signing.
  7. Is the book being marketed in stores (print)? Town is a niche book—Michigan historical fiction for kids—so I “hand-sell” copies to bookstores and gift shops in that area where the book takes place.
  8. If online, what sites offer your book? Town is also available from Amazon and as an e-book with Kindle.
  9. From your first self-publishing project, what advice do you have for authors who are considering embarking on a self-publishing adventure?

Do . . .

  • Make sure your writing is superb. If you can’t afford a professional, get other writers and readers to go over it. The more willing victims, the better to make your words sing.
  • Realize everything costs money. Even going the cheapest way, it costs.
  • Search for the publisher which will best meet your needs, not just financially.
  • Plan to spend months figuring out how to market and promote. It’s a whole different language and world from writing (unless you can hire someone to do this for you.)
  • You’re not in this alone. Meet with other authors. Go to conferences; attend webinars. Ask questions.
  • Read about the writing craft to better yourself. Read a lot, both in the genre you write, and in other genres. You can never tell from where the creative sparks may start to fly.
  • Write another book.

Don’t . . .

  • With seven books self-published, my biggest “Don’t do this” is, surprisingly enough, don’t self-publish . . . if you can help it, for traditional editors and marketers do wonders with your words.
  • Don’t fret, cry, or wail when you don’t get rich from self-publishing. (Refer to #7 on the “Do This” list.)
  • Don’t neglect yourself. Keep daily refreshing your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
  • Don’t neglect your family.
  • Don’t forget to include God in every step you take.

Find more about Sandy on Facebook and at SandyCarlson.com. You can also find her on Twitter (@sandycarl).

 

Pilgrim’s Progress theme Part III

Write2Ignite Conference 2018 theme series—by Deborah S. DeCiantis 

After his escape from the Slough of Despond, Christian meets Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, who convinces him that an easier way to get rid of his burden is to turn aside from the path to the Wicket Gate and instead climb the hill to meet Legality and Civility. Christian believes him and takes this detour until he sees the true height and menacing overhang of the mountain. Now in doubt about this choice, he sees Evangelist coming and immediately feels ashamed.

Evangelist brings a stern look and rebuke, but when Christian fears he has lost his chance to get back on the right path, Evangelist reassures him that the way through the gate to deliverance is still open.

Several points related to our faith and writing journey emerge from this episode.

  1. Many sources offer persuasive words urging people to follow other worldviews, values, and self-help paths. These are often attractive, appealing to logic and human wishes (the “easier” way), and seem designed to help people achieve happiness and success. Those tempting alternatives, whether shortcuts or “new, improved” ideas, can trip up adults, too, especially when we are feeling vulnerable or defeated. Christian starts with good information (“the book”) and sound direction (Evangelist’s instructions), but his encounter with Mr. Worldly-Wiseman nearly derails his faith.
  2. Bunyan knew well through personal experience the dangers for a believer. His testimony includes not only struggles with doubt and discouragement, but one episode in which he heard the words, “Sell and part with this most blessed Christ. . . . Let him go if he will.” He tells [readers] that “I felt my heart freely consent thereto. Oh, the diligence of Satan; Oh, the desperateness of man’s heart.” For two years, . . . , he was in the doom of damnation. “I feared that this wicked sin of mine might be that sin unpardonable.” (Piper)
  3. Just as adults need to avoid these pitfalls in our own faith walk, children need to understand how temptations come and how easily they can fall prey to wrong ideas when people package them in nice words that seem to offer what they want or words that question what God says.

Bunyan continued in his state of fear and uncertainty for two years, but eventually he perceived the corrective and life-changing message “Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand” (qtd. in Piper). Although times of discouragement still followed, this turning point cemented his faith.

  1. Evangelist, in this illustration, fulfills a role similar to that of Christian writers who desire to help children establish their faith through finding and following the “narrow way.” Those who write Sunday school curriculum may present explicit spiritual counsel, much as Evangelist does for Christian. However, for writers of other genres—nonfiction articles, children’s stories, historical fiction—the challenge is to address these concepts while engaging children to enjoy the stories in which lessons (avoiding temptations to stray from what’s right) are embedded.

In Part II, we emphasized the author’s method of revealing background through the main character’s experiences (usually, mistakes) and explaining a principle the mistaken choice illustrates. This process is much like the principle often applied by both teachers and parents, known as the “teachable moment.” When things go wrong, people have a chance to take stock – to review the situation, words, decisions, and actions which led to an unwanted result.

Even young children can understand this principle: you know X is right, but in this situation, your words and actions went against X. Evangelist takes time, after rebuking Christian, to encourage him: “Thy sin is very great, for by it thou hast committed two evils; thou hast forsaken the way that is good, to tread in forbidden paths; yet will the man at the gate receive thee, for he has good-will for men; only, said he, take heed that thou turn not aside again. . . .”

Evangelist leaves Christian with a kiss and a smile – important signals that despite his failure, he will be welcomed at the gate. In fact, Good-will lets him in and directs him to find “The Interpreter,” who shows him many scenes of different characters and possible outcomes, good or bad. At first, Christian needs Interpreter to explain these, but as scenes continue, he begins to understand their significance.

Christian, who still bears his burden, is now encouraged and leaves to keep on the “straight and narrow” path which Interpreter has cautioned him to follow.

Contemporary stories may feature a spiny echidna’s adventures (real or imagined), a juvenile biography of Madame C.J. Walker, explanation of “How the U.S. Congress Creates a Law,” or a fictional teen’s struggles to deal with a family crisis. In each case, Bunyan’s model fusing truth principles and human experience with teachable moments offers Christian writers material for meditation and method for application.

Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress in the Similitude of a Dream. 1678. All quotations from the online pdf at the desiringgod.org website © Desiring God 2014.

Piper, John. “To Live Upon God Who Is Invisible: The Life of John Bunyan.” Desiringgod.org. 2014. http://cdn.desiringgod.org/website_uploads/documents/books/the-pilgrim-s-progress.pdf?1417090573 .

Next time: More on Interpreter’s role, plus Christian’s encounter at the cross.

More Than Just the Facts, Ma’am

When you think about writing for children, you might picture stacks of picture books or a shelf full of novels. But did you know there’s a large nonfiction market as well? In my workshop session “More Than Just the Facts, Ma’am,” I’m going to introduce you to the world of children’s nonfiction and educational publishing.

There’s more to writing for the educational market than just getting your facts right. In the workshop, you’ll not only discover how to find reliable sources but also learn how to submit to publishers and book packagers, write for a particular reading level, complete work-for-hire assignments, communicate with editors, deal with revisions, and—of course—get more assignments. In three years, I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to write over 60 books with topics ranging from frog hotels to surviving on a deserted island.

But we can’t forget the picture book! Join me in the workshop “15 Things Not to Do When Writing a Picture Book.” I’ll take you through the picture-book-making process from both an author’s and illustrator’s point of view. You’ll also learn about some common mistakes to avoid as you write for younger readers.

Can’t wait to see you in March!

 

Samantha Bell writes nonfiction books for the educational market and is a regular nonfiction contributor for Clubhouse Jr. magazine. She’s the author/illustrator of 4 picture books and the illustrator of 14 picture books. The best part: her 12-year-old thinks she knows everything!

 

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