Episode 117: Metaphors & Prophecies

On October 17, 2020, Kasie and Rex followed up on Tuesday’s #wschat on Twitter about metaphor and prophecy. Are they similar enough to make one episode? Let’s find out:

Theme for the day

Metaphors and Prophecies


  • Join our community on Patreon
  • What is a Metaphor?
  • What is a prophecy?
  • How is each used in literature?
  • Your classic compare/contrast — like a BOSS.
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast.

Segment 1

Thanks to our patrons who continue to support the show and our efforts to bring writing craft lessons to the airwaves. If you’re ready to support the show, go to Patreon.com/WriteOnSC and join at the $5, $10, or $18 level to get access to behind-the-scenes footage, exclusive courses, and promotional work like Profile Pages and author interviews on the YouTube channel.

Did you know we have a YouTube channel? Check us out, dudes!

So let’s start with the obvy — how does a metaphor work? What makes them valuable to writers? This link gives us a great metaphor 101 (Thank you, Reedsy):

  • “…metaphors can help explain concepts and ideas by colorfully linking the unknown to the known; the abstract to the concrete; the incomprehensible to the comprehensible.”

The explaining of the complex with the simple is a metaphor’s greatest power:

  • “The parents looked upon Matilda in particular as nothing more than a scab. A scab is something you have to put up with until the time comes when you can pick it off and flick it away.” —Matilda, Roald Dahl
    • We don’t need to know how they spoke to her, how they treated her, that they didn’t hug her or make her feel valued. A “scab” is not valued.

Writers have fun with metaphors by comparing two unlikely things:

  • “The sun was a toddler insistently refusing to go to bed: It was past eight thirty and still light.” —Fault in Our Stars, John Green
    • What we know of a toddler, the annoyance, the exhaustion, the guilt over wishing it would cease and yet knowing it eventually will — all of that is in the metaphor

Metaphors can bring abstract concepts into concrete ideas:

  • “Memories are bullets. Some whiz by and only spook you. Others tear you open and leave you in pieces.” ―Kill the Dead, Richard Kadrey
    • Again, what do we know of bullets? How can memories be considered the same destructive thing? Something we’re glad to dodge?

Can we distinguish between metaphors and cliches? Get a sense that some metaphors are trite and overdone?

  • Love is a battlefield.
  • You’ve given me something to chew on.
  • He’s just blowing off steam.
  • That is music to my ears.
  • Love is a fine wine.
  • She’s a thorn in my side.
  • You are the light in my life.
  • He has the heart of a lion.

Extended metaphors — such as Animal Farm — are these always satirical? Or are they, like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe an exploration into human condition with a fantasy element that provides a point of comparison?

Segment 2

Okay, so what about prophecy? What’s the purpose of a prophecy? When do they show up in literature? How can a writer leverage them?

This is a prediction of the future and an effort to put events in context. They were more common during Biblical times in terms of believability but there are the modern versions that exist in contemporary literature. So let’s take them three ways:

  1. Historical fiction and as an indication of “faith”
  2. Fantasy fiction as a device for foreshadowing
  3. Modern commercial realism as a tool for irony or self-awareness

Historical fiction

Simple, really, when we consider that early faith was part of explaining the unexplainable and people have questions that prophecies could answer. Everything from voodoo to the so-called “second coming” can be leveraged to create opposing forces.

Prophecy in historical fiction can tip the reader off that the writer knows what’s to come. Any story set in the past is up against the reader’s knowledge of that era. So a prophecy can be a way of demonstrating the writer’s intention to either defy or follow the expected path of history.

Fantasy fiction

This can be an indication of how primitive the culture is. Who delivers these prophecies? Is it learned scholars innately ordained with magical foreknowledge? Or is it teenaged girls dancing around a fire in the woods?

Prophecy can likewise draw divisions between the forces seeking to uphold a beneficial prophecy and those working against one that spells doom. Consider “Willow” and the idea that a child will bear a specific mark and that mark will signal the end to a tyrant’s rule. Half the kingdom wanted to kill the child, the other half wanted to protect it.

How does this work with “the chosen one” trope?

Segment 3

Modern commercial realism

The self-fulfilling prophecy is the most common in this genre. You’ll see people saying they don’t want a certain thing to occur and try to prevent it only to have it happen anyway. We can see it in sports analysts, political analysts, and weathermen — the desire to predict the future based on certain data. That prediction – the forecast – can be considered a modern prophecy.

Writers can use this propensity to predict the future as a character trait. Someone who always predicts what others will do and is consistently wrong. Someone who says, “I told you so,” as a matter of keeping themselves relevant in conversations. Someone who warns against the worst possible outcome in an effort to “play devil’s advocate” while indicating they might not really know what that phrase means.

Prophecy can be a kind of metaphor. It can also build suspense as the reader becomes aware of the possibilities the author is considering and tries to predict which one will come to pass.

All right, so why pair metaphor and prophecy? Is it because I wanted to do an episode on prophecy and Rex said he wanted to do one on metaphor? Maybe. Is it because he mentioned last week that Odysseus left home and the youth who were left behind grew slovenly and lazy and his kingdom was in peril because they didn’t know how to care for themselves and I said, “You mean like Millennials?” Maybe.

Here’s our obligatory English instructor Compare and Contrast:

Ease of useSentence-level, paragraph-level, whole characters, whole incidents, entire stories, entire novels; so, it’s versatileSubtext when paired with a metaphor — i.e. “this is just like that Biblical story where…”Stated when delivered by a person of authority or dignity — “read my lips” or “this shall come to pass”Stated when a warning or in irony — “you’ll regret this”Realized afterward — “I should have known”; so, it’s more complex and probably more subtle unless being used as a plot device
Who uses itOften the writer, not the characterWhen used by character, can have some versatilityOften a character as a plot deviceWhen used by the writer can risk being seen as a cheap device to get out of a tough situation
ImpactTries to explain a thing, liken it to something more familiar and usableAlso tries to explain a thing but by putting it in context
How do you do it?In a sentence, in a paragraph you just kind of twist the language to get the right feel for it. As a bigger metaphor, maybe it’s more planning to each similarity, a careful choice of vocabulary placementYou plan its use in the plot: who says it? Who hears it? Who is happy about it? Who fights against it? Does it come true? Why or why not?

Segment 4

So how do you do it? This blog has some advice on the areas you need to cover in planning.

  • Have a reason for the prophecy
  • Make sure it’s consistent with the operating laws of the world it’s delivered in
  • Phrase it so it can be misinterpreted
  • Outline and execute its impact on the story (see the box above)

Here’s the when and how on the self-fulfilling prophecy (link):

  • The blog suggests the prophecy be an end to your story, and maybe that’s true. So consider first what the prophecy is and the decide what its bookends need to be.
  • How might the prophecy cause itself to become true? What forces are affected by it?

Want to learn more about Short Story Basics? Click here to get the class.

Ready to support Write On SC? Go to Patreon.com/WriteOnSC to become a patron!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s