Back when I was taking Lit classes, I kept learning about allegory and extended metaphors and allusions and lots of other fancy words, and the whole time I couldn’t help but think, Are these professors taking this stuff way more seriously than the actual writers did?
Three decades later, I think I’ve finally figured it out better than the academics: Writers use literary devices because it makes them giggle.
Okay, some clarification…
When I got to about the fiftieth edit of my novel The String Rider, the last thing I wanted to do was re-read it for a fifty-first time, so I decided to make a game of it. How? Let’s work some literary allusions in there! For those who aren’t as highly edified as me, an “allusion” is a subtle reference to one thing within another thing. On a side note, the current trend is to insert the lesser-quality “Easter Egg” into everything from video games to automobiles. This is different. An Easter Egg is a blatant name-drop that’s plunked into an object simply for the jeepers effect of finding it (see: Ready Player One) whereas an allusion actively adds to the context.
For instance, in The String Rider, the protagonist learns about a graveyard located at the corners of Macomber and Francisco Blvds. Now, about .0001% of readers may recall the Ernest Hemingway novelette The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber and immediately flash back to its ending which involves the offing of a spouse… and then about twenty pages deeper into The String Rider they will recognize the ironic foreshadowing of my literary allusion and friggin’ laugh their asses off!
So, yeah, you’re grumbling, “I’ve never heard of The Short Happy Life of Nobody Gives a Damn, and why would I get your illusion twenty pages later, even if I had read it back in the 11th grade?” To which I answer: “Whatevs, man.” That literary device got me through edit #51.
Therefore, mission accomplished.
Edit #52 of The String Rider produced a fantastic allusion to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and it was immediately followed by a straight up Hitchcockian Easter Egg that was just as quickly trailed by a reference to The Shining, which can be considered either an allusion or an Easter Egg, depending on how generous the reader wants to be with me at the moment of recognition.
Edit #53 was looking more and more fun. And so it went.
The thing is, beyond spurring me through the (sometimes) drudgery of my craft, I do know that this gamesmanship actually does improve the writing.
In my novelette Trapdoor Spider, I ended with the image of an aquarium which perfectly encapsulated the previous fifty pages. Upon re-reading Trapdoor Spider, however, the opening felt flat. This led to the idea for a new introduction that would subtly tie in with the imagery of the fish tank. In the next edit, I incorporated another aquarium image mid-story. Now the beginning, middle, and end were all connected by that extended metaphor, and it left me skipping with joy… right into the next re-read.
Now, do I expect all—or any—of my readers to pick up on these little follies of mine?
For one thing, I don’t want to be too blatant because I feel that these Jedi… er, I mean literary mind tricks work best when they click at the subconscious level so that the audience’s fourth wall isn’t broken during their initial reading. Now, if Prof. Smartypants wants to give my story a reread or six, then you’re welcome.
Nowadays I’m off and working on my next masterpiece, yet the thought of Trapdoor Spider’s aquarium imagery still makes me giggle enough to wonder what surprises my current story will offer once I enter its tedious… er, I mean rewarding edit stage.
And that’s why I love literary devices.
John Espie’s The String Rider and Trapdoor Spider are available via Amazon, and you can learn more about him by visiting his Goodreads page at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20885684.John_Espie.