Setting Description Entry: Cryogenic Sleep Chamber

This post has been generously written by Beth Revis, YA debut author of Across the Universe. AtU, first in highly anticipated trilogy, will be available Jan 11, 2011, by Penguin/Razorbill and is being compared to The Hunger Games for Sci-fi as breakout fiction. Click on the link above to read the exciting first chapter!

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awake on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into a brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship—tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.


When coming up with a setting for something in a science fiction, you have to consider two rules.

1. The science should be based on pre-existing scientific thought or theory
2. You have to figure out why we don’t have the technology currently, and then come up for a reason why you can have it in your story.

For example: in writing my science fiction, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, I needed a character to be frozen cryogenically. This is not something that exists in our science today, but is possible in the foreseeable future. One of the problems with cryogenic freezing is that cell walls burst in the freezing process (think freezer-burned meat). So, if you're going to use cryogenic freezing in your book, you have to have a solution for it--that is, arguably, the most important thing about your sci fi setting.

So: my problem was that we were close to cryo freezing, but not quite there. I decided that I would make cryo freezing simple—basically you freeze in your own personal ice tray—but add a “blue goo” that would prevent cell walls from breaking. The setting was then a combination of what’s real—freezing—and what’s made up—the blue goo injection and other details that validated the science of cryogenic freezing.

Below is what I made my cryo chamber like—but you could have as easily come up with a different method of freezing (dry-freezing? A stasis chamber? A medically-induced coma along with anti-aging drugs?) that would have been just as valid but entirely different.


Cryogenic chamber(s), medical professionals, information charts, a de-robing room (you're not frozen in your clothes!), medical equipment (IVs, needles, gauze, cotton, eye-droppers, etc.), white walls, hose for cryo liquid, fluorescent lights, freezing mechanisms, storage facilities, cryogenic supplies


Woosh of cryo liquid from hose, hisses of pain from patients, professional tones of voice from medical personnel, metallic clicks of cryo chambers locking, plastic-on-plastic sound of IV bag and tubing


“Hospital” smell: sterility, antiseptic, rubbing alcohol, cleaning materials; sweat, bleach, metal, tears


(Personally, I think smells can often translate to taste, so a “hospital” scent might linger on the tongue), taste of blood from biting your lip, cold taste of cryo liquid


(I used touch to describe emotion, so I most often referred to the feeling of the room as “cold” to reflect the stony terror of the situation): cold tile floor, cold glass box, cold metal handle… but also: wetness from tears, ache from clenching fists, kisses goodbye

Helpful hints:

--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

And there was Daddy. The translucent liquid was frozen solid and, I knew, so was Daddy. I put my hand on the glass, wishing there was a way to feel his warmth through the ice, but I snatched it away quickly. The glass was so cold it burned. Green light blinked on the little electric box Hassan had fixed to the top of Daddy's cryotube.

Example 2:

I watched as the girl touched the box, then pulled her fingers away. Stupid kid. Didn't she know how cold the flash freezing process was? Steam rose from the glass top; if she'd just looked at it, she'd have known not to touch the thing. I breathe in deeply, tasting the cold on my tongue. Reminded me of icy days in the city.

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

The tubes were forced down my throat, hard. They did not feel as flexible as they had looked; they felt like a greased broomstick being crammed down my mouth.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

They slammed him in his mortuary, and a puff of white steam escaped through the cracks.

Something Wicked This Way Comes...

People, COOL STUFF is on it's way to the blog. Some I can mention and some I have to stay zipped about...for now. But stay tuned friends, for great TBM stuff is in store!

First and foremost, many of you have noticed I'm not the only person writing Setting Thesaurus Entries any more. Indeed, I have unleashed Project Awesome, whereby guest entries by your favorite published authors will be appearing here at The Bookshelf Muse! This is a fantastic opportunity for all writers, because these authors are selecting settings FROM THEIR NOVELS and using them to share their descriptive talents with us.

All Guest Entries by these authors will be featured in the sidebar with a *GE* next to their setting. And maybe, just maybe, you might want to check back on Saturday to see who our next guest Author is. Like, even if you were say, Across the Universe.

In other news, I have a visitor! CRITTER, the creation of artist Ian Sands, has popped in for a visit, the last stop on his tour of the KIDLIT world. The second I lifted him from the envelope, he started exploring the house and meeting the locals.

The Travelocity Gnome filled him in on the weirdness he can expect to find here in the Ackerman home.

Aragorn recommended a few costume choices for Halloween in between lessons in orc slaying. And, he dished some dirt on Legolas, but that's a post for another day.

Critter, who has visited with many excellent writing personalities over the past year including authors Beth Revis, Cynthia Leitch Smith, Jill S. Alexander and PJ Hoover, has been all over the world on a giant adventure. He originally hails from Christy Evers at Christy's Creative Space, where you can visit for the full low down about Critter, where he's been and the mission to help St. Jude's.

I've got some special stuff planned with Critter (including a VIP event!) to make sure he ends his world tour in style. In the meantime, I feel it's my duty to make sure he's ready for the Apocalypse, so I fixed him up with something educational to read.

Expect to see more of Critter soon, and a very wicked announcement!

New link!

Critter's Halloween Adventure
Critter Meets Artist Robert Bateman

"Personalizing" Queries

Recently I gave a talk about Agents to local SCBWI chapter members. One thing that we unfortunately didn't get around to discussing was the whole concept of 'personalizing queries.'

I've noticed this comes up at a few of the writing forums I visit. People want to know why it's important to personalize a query and how a person does it without coming across as a butt kisser or sounding phony.

So...why personalize?

High up on every Agent's hate list is the 'Splatter Query.' This is where the writer finds a list of agents on the net somewhere and sends out a form query to ALL OF THEM, hoping for a request. This is also known as the SHOTGUN approach to querying.

Four words: DON'T DO THIS...EVER.

Why? Because it's disrespectful to the agents you query, other writers who did target this agent, waiting to have their query considered...and it's disrespectful to yourself.  Not only do you waste everyone's time with a mis-query, think about this: how many hours/days/weeks/years did you slave over your manuscript? And now you're willing to hand it over to any old agent to try and sell? That's crazy talk, right there.

Personalizing a query tells the Agent you researched them specifically as a match for your manuscript. It's respectful to them and to your novel. You want to find the right advocate so your MS will have the best chance at placement. Taking a bit of time to research is nothing when considering how long it took to perfect your book.

Getting Personal: What it isn't

Stickers, glitter, gifts, fancy fonts & formatting, colored stationary, drawn-on hearts, nicknames, declarations to name child after agent/get a tattoo of the agent's face/etc in exchange for representation. No, no...just no. This damages the name 'writer' all over the world and screams RUN AWAY to the Agent.

Getting Personal: What it is

Think about what attracted you to the agent in the first place. What did you find out about them as you researched? Mention a compelling reason why you admire them and want them repping you. (And don't forget to always adress the agent by name when querying, never 'Dear Agent'.)

It's simple....Do your RESEARCH

Agents are often at conferences, book fairs, retreats and work shops, allowing for countless opportunities to shmooze and get to know them a bit better. If you don't see them on the circuit, most agents are fabulous about keeping a web presence. Blogs, articles, discussion boards, websites, twitter, Facebook...all of these are chock full of advice, information and personal tidbits that help you get to know who they are. This makes it very easy for you to find something genuine to personalize your letter with.

Personalization ideas:

--Did they speak at a conference? Did you learn something from it? Say briefly where you saw them and how they helped! If you met them personally, mention it.

--When you researched their clients, did one of their novels/writing style make you believe your book would be a good fit, too? If so, mention this. (BUT if you didn't read the book, in the name of zombies, don't lie and say you did!)

--Did you read an article by them on a specific topic and it broadened your knowledge? Thank them for it!

--Do you follow their blog where they share tips and news about the biz? Let the agent know you appreciate the time they give to writers!

--Are you up to date on their successes? Congratulate them!

Agents do a lot for all writers, not just their clients. They are very generous with their time, mentoring through blogs, conference talks, workshops and even Twitter. A genuine 'thank you' for all they do to help us learn and grow as writers is never amiss in a query letter, provided it's professional and concise. Personalization doesn't need to be big or splashy, just honest!

If you need more info on RESEARCHING AGENTS, please check out Julie Hedlund's post--it's chock full of great advice and links to help you on your way. :)

Setting Thesaurus Entry: Halloween Party


Jack-o-lanterns, rubber rats, hairy hanging spiders, fake spiderwebs, candles, orange and black garland, black bats on strings, paper skeletons, fake headstones, coffins, black fabric draped on the walls and furniture, black and orange balloons, strings of orange lights, spooky sound effect music, battery operated crawling hands and skeletons, hanging ghosts that shake, rubber snakes & cockroaches, glowing skulls, fake blood, axes, dimmed lights, shadows, urns filled with candy corn, Halloween themed paper plates/napkins/cups, punchbowl with floating eyeballs, dirt cake with gummy worms, cat litter cake, finger cookies, candy, cupcakes with spiders on them, spotlights, fog machine, candelabras, statue of the grim reaper, scythe, dry ice, music, people dressed up as monsters, witches, superheros, zombies, skeletons, pirates, vampires, historical figures, angels, fairies, werewolves, princesses, football players, rock stars, cheerleaders, animals, devils,  knights, movie characters, wizards, boxes filled with spaghetti labelled 'intestines' boxes filled with peeled grapes labelled 'eyeballs', party games like spin the bottle, bobbing for apples, people dancing, chips/pretzels/candy wrappers on the floor, discarded cups/plates sitting on the TV, tables, the back of furniture, on the stairs, counter, feathers and glitter from costumes being trampled into the carpet


Recorded sound effects (howling, cackling, creaking, laughter, moaning, wind blowing, bats screeching, chains rattling etc) people laughing, the rustle of costumes, music, glasses clinking, people talking, doorbell ringing, people running up and down the stairs, yelling, shouting, screaming, squeals, howling, people talking in character/costumed voices, cheering, the hiss of a beer or pop bottle being opened


Pizza, chips, chocolate cake, buttery sweet candy corn, alcohol (if served), pop, water, sweat, chalky/greasy make up, hair spray, candle wax, smoke, Cinnamon, popcorn, perfume/cologne, hair products, stuffy air


Candy, sugar, chocolate, chips, frosting, pizza, spices, apples, water, pop, punch, alcohol, popcorn, jello shots, jelly beans, gummy worms, pudding, cookie crumb toppings, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pie/tarts/cookies/muffins/loaf


The feel of starchy crinoline on costumes, sleek silky costume dresses and capes, the greasy feel of face make up, sweat under a hot costume, touching the fur of a dance partner's costume, sipping from a cup and trying not to get face makeup everywhere, crusty hair sprayed hair to hold form, pressing up against another dancer, bumping/nudging/rubbing against someone to pass in a hallway or to get across the room, feeling popcorn or candy underfoot, the light touch of fake spiderwebs on the neck, shivering as someone leans in close to whisper in the ear to be heard, jerking/tugging at costume to straighten it, the weight of a filled paper plate in the hand, the cool moisture of a cold drink against fingertips, an anonymous pinch/grope/elbow/grab in a packed room

Helpful hints:

--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

After taping the last strip of fishing line from the roof, I climbed down from the ladder an admired my work. With the lights turned down, no one would see the strands in the hall. One touch against the back of the neck or face and people would immediately imagine a spiderweb and freak out.

Example 2:

My ex friend Mandy emerged from the crowd on the dance floor, dressed in a glittery blue cheer leading costume that showed so much skin she must have bought it from the Little Miss section. Preening at every hoot and whistle, she hooked her arm through my boyfriend Jeff's. "Interesting costume, Leda," she said, giving me a bitchy smile. "Only are you Raggedy Ann, or Andy?"

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

Erma set the candy bowl on the table and waited for someone to reach in. It had a buzzer inside that would shake the moment someone crossed the motion sensor. All those gummy worms would jiggle like live maggots and she'd bet money that whoever had their hand in there would shriek at the top of their lungs.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

While everyone headed for the kitchen to bob for apples, Ben moved down the dark hall toward the bathroom. He eyed the cobwebbed-streaked doors in case one of his friends decided to jump out at him, but they stayed closed. At the end, he turned the knob and pushed on the bathroom door. High-pitched laughter washed over him in a cackling wave and he stumbled back, heart jamming against his ribs. The creaky laughter became the clanking of chains. Ben grinned, clutching at his chest. Someone rigged the door with one of those spooky mixed CDs!

Symbolism Entry: Ordered/Organization

Every day we interact with objects, places and sensations that affect the way we think and feel. This can be used to the writer's advantage by planting symbols in the reader's path to reinforce a specific message, feeling or idea.

Look at the setting and the character's state of mind, and then think about what you want the reader to see. Is there a descriptive symbol or two that works naturally within the scene to help foreshadow an event or theme, or create insight into the character's emotional plight?

In Nature:

Animals gathering in herds or packs
Seasonal cycles
Life/death cycle
North Star position
Phases of the moon
Planetary alignment
Bird migrations
Baby birds following their mother
The Food Chain
Ant hills
Bee hives
The tides
Animal migration
The Water Cycle

In Society:

Technology (computers, databases)
Bill payment
Streets, intersections
Crosswalks/crossing guards
Street Light changes
School Routine
Work Hours
Shopping hours
Banking Hours
Rows of lockers
Labels, folders, dividers
Mail boxes
Sorted mail
Grocery store shelves
Line graphs, flow charts, bar graphs
Filing cabinets
Phone Book
Email Lists
Ingredient lists
Name tags
Table of Contents
Committees, organizations
Help desk/tec support services
Government services (Police, Fire, Rescue)
Government Organizations (Welfare, Unemployment, Social Programs/services)

These are just a few examples of things one might associate with Order/Organization. Some are more powerful than others. A filing cabinet is a strong symbol of organization and likely will not require reinforcement. However, a single name tag may not foreshadow order/organization on its own. Let the story's tone decide if one strong symbol or several smaller ones work the best.


Last night I gave my first SCBWI talk alongside Janet Gurtler, author of the much anticipated YA novel, Weight of Bones due out in Spring 2011. The topic? Agents!

During the discussion, I covered what Agents are, what they do and what type of writer would benefit most from having one. Janet did a spectacular job of describing the process that occurs when an offer is made right through to negotiating the deal. It's amazing how hard agents work on the writer's behalf, securing rights, royalty rates and negotiating the advance. And really this is only the tip of the iceberg! (I found a neat 'mock negotiation' between editor and agent at Ingrid's Notes if you're curious about what the process of making a deal looks like.)

We also looked at the query process from researching agents, writing and critiquing queries to things to ask during 'The Call.' Finding the right agent fit is not always easy and requires a lot of thought for both parties involved. It's not enough to find an agent who can be a passionate advocate, they must also have strong communication skills, a compatible working style and have a strong network within the industry.

All in all, it was a really informative session, and I think everyone came away with a good idea of what it's like inside the agent relationship. As part of the session, Janet and I compiled some 'must have' resources for anyone on the agent/querying path, including a list of questions to consider before signing on the dotted line.

If any Musers out there would like a copy of these handouts from the session, fire me an EMAIL and we'll be happy to share them with you. :)

Plague, Plague, Go Away...

Sorry I've totally jammed out this week on posts. I don't get sick often, but when I do... URGH. Hopefully we'll be back to regular posts next week. :)

Oh, and make sure you stop in at Random Thoughts on MONDAY. Bish Denham, the winner of the three month mentorship, is going to post about THE WRINGER OF DEATH, er, I mean, give some details about her mentorship experience so far. :)

Have a great, sick-free weekend!

Inside the Simile

Last week I took an inside look at Metaphors, so today I thought Similes needed some love. Because of their ease in use, most writers already incorporate similes and understand what they are. However, for posterity, Friend Wiki states: A simile is a figure of speech that indirectly compares two different things by employing conjunctions (e.g. the words "like", "as", or "than").

Similes are often easier to come up with, because 'like or as' (the most commonly used conjunctions) can form a quick comparison without worrying about being deeply meaningful or symbolic. There's also some wiggle room as simile comparisons are adaptable, which allows the opportunity to inject voice, humor or the POV character's outlook into the wording.

For example:

Margo was a surgeon, cutting her dinner into precise bites. (metaphor)

Margo ate like a surgeon with OCD, cutting her dinner into precise bite-sized pieces before manically sorting them according to color, texture and shape. (simile)

Jim's stained undershirt was an artful collage of food he'd eaten this week. (metaphor)

Jim's undershirt read like a lunch menu from a greasy spoon diner--chili dogs, spray cheese and grape soda. (simile)

As you can see, the ability to tweak what's being compared allows us to better show some wit and personality, making this a popular figure of speech. Of course, this leads to a very common problem among writers...simile overload.


Many of us love similes a little too much. Tools like AutoCrit and  Wordle can be helpful to gauge your usage--dump in a chunk of your story and see what pops out the other side. If you start seeing loads of 'likes' showing up, chances are you are abusing similes in your writing. This is something that we need to correct, because if the reader starts picking up on the 'like or as' constructions, it means they are noticing the writing, which pulls them out of the story.

This is a weakness of mine. I have to really go through my work and weed out this particular figure of speech. Once I had a crit partner tell me my book looked like I took a bag of similes and dumped them on top of my manuscript. The truth behind the statement was not lost on me (nor was the very visual and ironic use of simile in her comment!)

Curb your simile addiction and trundle down to my metaphor post. Take a look at how to craft metaphors and also think about creating evocative, sensory description that does not require a figure of speech. Strong writing comes from using a variety of stylistic methods to convey meaning, but never relying on any one technique too much.

Setting Thesaurus Entry: Tropical Island City

This post has been generously written by Janice Hardy, author of the Middle Grade Novel, Blue Fire, book two in the Healing Wars Trilogy. To see her excellent method of using setting to enhance conflict, I highly recommend checking out Blue Fire.

Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, Nya risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke of Baseer from using them in his fiendish experiments. Nya soon realizes the only way to protect any of them is to flee their home city of Geveg. She finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.

Janice's Entry Notes on Setting:

As a fantasy writer, setting is a critical part of the story. In The Healing Wars trilogy, it also plays an important role because my protagonist’s city of Geveg is being occupied by the forces of their enemy, Baseer, and that occupation colors how my protagonist feels about things. Point of view is a great way to use setting details in that not only tells a reader what things look like, but how the protagonist sees them. Setting can help flesh out your characters as well as your world.

For this exercise, I’ve pulled details from the city of Geveg as well as the city of Baseer. Geveg is an island city with canals (very Venice-inspired), but set in a tropical climate. It’s a made up in a fantasy world, but hopefully the flavor of the city and its people comes through form the words I chose to illustrate it. The occupied nature should also be apparent. Baseer is a very different city. Much larger, crowded, bright and cheerful, even though my protagonist doesn’t see it as cheerful. To her, it’s the enemy’s domain, and her fear influences what she sees. The things she notices are things that she doesn’t see much (if at all) in Geveg, so they stand out to her. The military nature of Baseer should show in those details.


Geveg: Canals, water hyacinth, isles, palm trees, graceful stone bridges, wide streets, hibiscus, crocodiles, chickens, broken chicken coops, shimmering lake, water, reed sap, lak eweed, market crates, marsh farms, Healers’ League, spires, domes, arches, apprentices, Elders, wards, pain merchants, enchanters, Takers, Healers in green uniforms, dock, harbor, ferry, skiffs, fishing boats, ropes, nets, traps, lake gulls, mangoes, bananas, fishcakes, sandals, Sanctuary, copper gates, wrought iron fences, river rock walls, townhouses, villas, boardinghouses, weeds, refugees, night guards, soldiers, silver and blue uniforms, rapier, swords, knives, pynvium weapons, orphans.

Baseer: Gold stone walls, guard towers, military fort, ditches, barracks, soldiers, blue and silver uniforms, trackers, Undying, Takers, wide iron gates with guards, reward posters, narrow streets, vendor carts, too-bright tiles, colored window sills, colored fake shutters, tattoos, snakes, monkeys, cats, street pack, braids, beaded vests, garish patterns, boots, rugs, fountains, lizards, guinea fowl, marsh ducks, pears, aqueducts, plaza, foundry, palace, villas, aristocrat estates, jails, gallows, cheese-stuffed pastries.


Geveg: Waves sighing, hiss of reeds through the water, gulls calling, children crying, people whispering, soldiers shouting, boot stomps, clock tower chimes, singing, gates squeaking, boats thumping against the dock, racial slurs, whoomp (the sound of pynvium being flashed), shuffling feet, excited giggles, chicken squawks, stomach rumbling, clattered, thud, crack, moans, groans, thunder, rounds bell, nervous babble, creaky stairs, monkeys whooping.

Baseer: Vendor shouts, stomping boots, too many people talking, children laughing, roar of the furnace, clang of swords, gurgle, bones snapping, forge hammering, rhythmic clanging, sandals slapping on brick, snapping fingers, chirps, squawks, whimpers, breath whooshing out, hissing through teeth, hollered high, alarm bells, hacked a wet cough, urgent knocks, banging, door click shut, scraping, breaths quickened, wood chunks skipped down the stairs, snicker, canvas flapping.


Geveg: Lake violets, white ginger, cinnamon, smoke, fish, fish stew, coffee, honeysuckle, rain, fried perch, bilge, urine, damp face powder, chicken poop, bitter metallic odor, smelled like a forge, spices, jasmine, burnt wood, smoke.

Baseer: Fish stink and mold, metal, fire and smoke, smoked meat, sweat and heat.


Geveg: Bitter tang, bile, juicy mango.

Baseer: Cheesy fruit filling, stale water, sweet and cool.


Geveg: Humid air, soft breeze, hunger, fear, wariness, throbbing, knuckle burn, joint pain, tingling like blown sand, rough stone, smooth marble, warm brick, prickling, tingly hot, cool water, straw bristles, shivering feet.

Baseer: Sharp corners, rough brick, warm water, cold bars, prickly rope, needle pricks, heavy air, quivering guts, misting rain.

Helpful hints:

--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.


I kept moving, deeper into the noise and mess. The buildings were five—no six—stories tall. The top floors had short balconies, but the lower floors didn’t—not that I had the strength to climb onto one anyway. I saw no alleys. Buildings butted up against each other and the street seemed to go on for miles. It felt like the entire city was crashing down on top of me.

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

The sun-lit glade was an invitation to my weary body, the grass thick as a rug and softer than any bed I’d slept in for a long time.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

Alex stepped forward and held his arm out across the walk, a moving rendition of the trees growing inside the palace: tall, wide, brown, with a mess of gold on top.

Symbolism Thesaurus Entry: Love/Affection

Every day we interact with objects, places and sensations that affect the way we think and feel. This can be used to the writer's advantage by planting symbols in the reader's path to reinforce a specific message, feeling or idea.

Look at the setting and the character's state of mind, and then think about what you want the reader to see. Is there a descriptive symbol or two that works naturally within the scene to help foreshadow an event or theme, or create insight into the character's emotional plight?

In Nature:

Mating rituals (chasing, wrestling, gentle head butting, etc)
Grooming (combing, licking, scratching etc)
Animals nuzzling their mate or young
Animals sharing food
Close proximity to one another
Building a burrow/nest together
Sleeping in the same place
Protecting mate or children from predators or danger
Remaining nearby if mate is injured
Modelling behavior (teaching to hunt, fly)

In Society:

The color red
Valentine's Day
Holding hands
Holding someone
Tending to injuries
Sharing secrets
Sitting close enough legs /knees/etc touch
Love letters
Sending flowers, chocolate, etc
Putting another's needs/wants first
A hand or shoulder squeeze
Touching another's face or hair
Enduring hardship for another
Sleeping together
Sharing interests/hobbies
Making time for another
Sharing worries, fears, hopes
A need to be close
Thinking about other when apart
Candlelight dinners
Wine & glasses
Sharing a bath or shower
Massage, foot rubs
Romantic movies
Displaying trust (trying new things, stepping outside comfort zone)
Stores/business that target lovers, couples, romance
Wanting to share experiences, make memories
Leaning toward one another
Sharing meals or a drink
Running errands, doing favors, helping
Borrowing clothing
Lingering eye contact
Blushing, glowing
Whispering close to ear
Buying Flowers
Paying the bill

These are just a few examples of things one might associate with Love or affection. Some are more powerful than others. A pair of entwined lovers is a strong symbol, and likely will not require reinforcement. However, lingering eye contact may not foreshadow Love or affection on its own. Let the story's tone decide if one strong symbol or several smaller ones work the best.

Inside the Metaphor

Metaphors. Most of us know we should use them, that they're a good way to describe, but not everyone has a solid understanding of what they are. Seeing as metaphors are one of the most powerful communication tools between writer and reader, this is one English lesson worth reviewing! 

Er, what are they again?

Friend Wiki states: A metaphor is a figure of speech that constructs an analogy between two things or ideas; the analogy is conveyed by the use of a metaphorical word in place of some other word.

I think of it as matching two things in a meaningful way. While a simile gives a likened comparison (object A is like object B), a metaphor states that object A is Object B. The full moon was a glistening pearl in a midnight shell. Love is a teddy bear clutched in a sleeping child's arms. Mom's sex talk was an evangelist's rant about lust being the tool of Satan.

Each metaphor gives a clear image of what the writer wants to get across. It should allude to atmosphere, mood, emotion or characterize. In the case above, LOVE is not a passionate teenage embrace (volatile, emotional), it is not the familiar touch of age-spotted hands (enduring, comforting). It is the teddy bear clutched in a sleeping child's arms--innocent, unconditional, protective, beautiful. The reader experiences LOVE exactly as we want them to. This is is why metaphor usage is so powerful. The analogy you choose doesn't only send an instant picture to the reader, it can also show them what you want them to FEEL.

So how do we build strong metaphors? 

1) Write down the thing you want to create a metaphor for. It might be an object, person, emotion, a descriptive element, concept or physical action.  IE: Winter

2) Write down several descriptive details/attributes/free associations about it. IE: cold, death, frozen, snow, ice, white, blanketing, clean, fresh, frost, blizzard, biting wind, renewal, isolation

3) Think about the emotion/atmosphere angle you want to convey in the scene and the meaning you want to get across. Light and whimsical? Dark and depressing? Symbolic? Humorous?

4) Create a list of possible comparables that have #2 in common while keeping #3 in mind. If you need to, start with a cliche to get your brain going, and then branch out into fresher territory. IE: # 3 Dark & depressing angle

Winter was... 

...a linen shroud covering an earthy corpse (#2 the look of snow)
...the lonely howl of a wolf, separated from his mate (#2 isolation)
...the final icy exhale of a man on his deathbed (#2 death, endings)

Each of these brings an image to mind that reinforces a dark aspect of winter: death, being alone, finality. Metaphors often work best as a punchline of a descriptive passage, the final thought that summarizes the whole.

5) Choose the one that fits what you want to get across the most.

Metaphors are not only useful to show emotion and atmosphere, they can also work well when you need to describe something yet be economical with words. Equating a dance partner to a headless chicken in his death throws is often more effective more than a paragraph detailing his twitchy dance moves.

Like all things, metaphors should be used in moderation. But if you're struggling with how to show, want to get more meaning out of your description or want to add a level of sophistication to your writing style, the big M is your friend.  :)

Setting Thesaurus Entry: Bank


Security guard, video cameras, cashier wickets, pen on a chain, table for deposit slips, envelopes, forms, etc Tellers, Bank Manager behind desk, computer monitors, computers, drawers of cash, traveller's cheques, filing cabinets, stamps and stamp pads, cash machines, mortgage signs, investment offers, counting machines, waiting area, offices, bank vault, locked rooms, tile floor, complementary candies in a dish or jar, coffee/tea machine, magazines on table in waiting area, potted plants, Rate-of-exchange currency board, large glass windows, double glass doors, trash bins, business card holders, telephones, line ups, customers shifting foot-to-foot, people with wallets out, purses or cash deposit bags, paper shredder station, fax machine, printers, jar of pens, bill counting machine, cash, printouts, stairs leading to vault and safety deposit boxes


The ruffle of paper as bills are counted by hand, the sound of the teller's voice as she rattles off amounts, the thunk of a stamp on paperwork, a teller calling, "next', soft music in the background, coughing, people speaking in low voices, the gurgle and hiss of the coffee machine, the shuffle of feet on time floors, doors and drawers opening and closing, the tap of keys on the keyboard, the scratch of a pen, unzipping of a purse, the slap of a bank card being set down on the counter, a till tape spitting out of an adding machine, the whirr of the fax machine, heels clicking across the floor, air conditioning in vents


Cleaner (pine, lemon, ammonia, paper, ink from cash, warm electronics (kind of a dusty-ozone type scent), perfume/cologne mingling in the air, coffee, bad breath, food warmed up in an unseen break room, hair products


Cheap candies from the bowl, mints, gum, water, coffee, tea


Pushing the door open, walking to the back of the line, shifting weight as you wait, digging in purse, checking cell phone for messages/texts, clasping hands in front of you while you wait, tugging wallet out of a pocket, leaning on service counter with elbows, sliding bank card out of holder, leaning over counter slightly to see what the teller is doing, reaching for the pen to sign slips, putting pen back in holder, reading through paperwork before folding and placing in purse or wallet, tucking bills into a wallet or cramming them into a pocket

Helpful hints:

--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

Stamp, stamp, slide the drawer open, count the bills and slide the drawer shut. That was my life, handing cash across a marble counter to an assortment of people all with bigger bank accounts than I'd ever have. Just once I'd like to slide my fingers into the cool metal drawer, place my back to the security camera and take a little something for myself.

Example 2:

My opportunist's eye swept the room--three tellers, a security guard near the doors, rubbing at his chest and sending glances at the bathroom. He'd be heading off for a drink of water in hopes of easing his after-lunch heartburn. I spotted another guard by a tall potted palm at the mouth of a long hall, chatting up a pretty teller. Behind him would be the stairwell to the lower levels and the vault, filled with cash overflow and foreign currency, a delicious temptation for someone like me. I pulled my brim into place so it would shade my face for the cameras above. Today was recon, but after the hit cops would be sure to scroll through old footage.

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

The line stretched and twisted along the roped queue like an impatient, foot shifting centipede.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

I fidgeted, my fingers tapping against my purse as I glanced around for co-workers. The room was crowded with people like me, trying to cram in some banking during the lunch hour. God I hoped that cheque for Dillan's Hockey camp hadn't hit the account yet. This stupid tunnel-shaped banking area picked up every whisper and word. If the teller said 'overdraft' I'd be an elephant on display at a circus, with the rest of the line cackling over the poor, pathetic women who couldn't even keep her finances straight.


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