Rising Action – Figures of Speech, Metalepsis

29 December 2012, this blog is about writing in scenes.  I’m focusing on the tools to build scenes.  I’ll leave up the parts of a novel because I think this is an important picture for any novelist.  I’m writing about the rising action.

1. The beginning
2. The rising action
3. The Climax
4. The falling action
5. The dénouement

I’m looking at symbols in writing literature.  Let’s start with the definition of a symbol:

1. Something that represents something else by association, resemblance, or convention, especially a material object used to represent something invisible. See Synonyms at sign.

The concept in art relating to symbols is symbolism.  Its definition follows:

1. The practice of representing things by means of symbols or of attributing symbolic meanings or significance to objects, events, or relationships.

I’ll leave up these definitions.

Lets look at langauge as a symbol.  Authors use language as the paintbrush of their art.  Language itself is a symbol and is used to form symbols.  One of the chief uses of language is called figures of speech.  Here is the definition of a figure of speech:

A figure of speech is the use of a word or words diverging from its usual meaning. It can also be a special repetition, arrangement or omission of words with literal meaning, or a phrase with a specialized meaning not based on the literal meaning of the words in it, as in idiom, metaphor, simile, hyperbole, or personification. Figures of speech often provide emphasis, freshness of expression, or clarity. However, clarity may also suffer from their use, as any figure of speech introduces an ambiguity between literal and figurative interpretation. A figure of speech is sometimes called a rhetorical figure or a locution.

Today’s Blog:  The skill of using language in a large degree comes from the ability to put together figures of speech that act as symbols in writing.

The way I intend to approach is subject is to give and define a type of figure of speech, classify it, give an example of it, and give an example of how and why you might use such a figure of speech.

Metalepsis is a figure of speech in which one thing is referred to by something else that is only remotely associated with it. Often the association works through a different figure of speech, or through a chain of cause and effect. Often metalepsis refers to the combination of several figures of speech into an altogether new one. Those base figures of speech can be literary references, resulting in a sophisticated form of allusion.

A synonym for metalepsis is transumption, derived from the Latin transsumptio invented by Quintilian as an equivalent for the Greek.

A metalepsis is a permutation (immutatio) in the use of a rhetorical operation.

Examples of metalepsis:

    • “I’ve got to catch the worm tomorrow.”
      • “The early bird catches the worm” is a common maxim, advocating getting an early start on the day to achieve success. The subject, by referring to this maxim, is compared to the bird; tomorrow, the speaker will awaken early in order to achieve success
  • “[Metalepsis] has always been a confusing trope, a hard trope to define with any usefulness.” (Douglas Robinson, The Translator’s Turn. Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1991)
  • “It is the nature of metalepsis to form a kind of intermediate step between the term transferred and the thing to which it is transferred, having no meaning in itself, but merely providing a transition.” (Quintilian)
  • “Perhaps the most common example of metalepsis in narrative occurs when a narrator intrudes upon another world being narrated. In general, narratorial metalepsis arises most often when an omniscient or external narrator begins to interact directly with the events being narrated, especially if the narrator is separated in space and time from these events.” (Douglas Estes, The Temporal Mechanics of the Fourth Gospel. Brill, 2008)
  • “There are so many examples of forking-path and metaleptic narratives by now that my recommendations will have to seem arbitrary. One of the most thoroughly enjoyable constructions of enigmatic worlds within worlds is Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962). A good short text is Robert Coover’s ‘The Babysitter’ (1969). In film, a frequently referenced forking-path narrative is Peter Howitt’s Sliding Doors (1998).” (H. Porter Abbott, The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, 2nd ed. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008)
  • “[In Tom] Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound, the framing diegetic situation is here equally a theatre. In this fictional theatre a whodunnit is performed, witnessed by an audience which includes two theatre critics. In the course of the embedded performance these critics become paradoxically involved in the hypdodiegetic play within a play, an involvement which even leads to the death of one of them. Thus, as in the case of Pirandello’s Sei personaggi, the typical traits of a metalepsis can here also be recognized: a fictional representation consisting of several distinct worlds and levels, among which unorthodox transgression occur.” (Werner Wolf, “Metalepsis as a Transgeneric and Transmedial Phenomenon.” Narratology Beyond Literary Criticism, ed. by Jan Christoph Meister. De Gruyter, 2005)

Metalepsis: figures of speech in regard to allusions are necessary and critical to the writer.  This type of figure of speech is an allusion that is remote to its source.  It provides the author with intentional ambiguity when wielded correctly or with decisive candor also when wielded with skill.  Rememeber the power of figure od speech is to achive both.  I’m telling you that in the proper setting, ambiguity is good and so is full coherence.

To get the most out of this blog and the information I’m passing on to you, you should experiment with the concepts. Try writing a few metalepsisand try using them in your writing. Try all the different figures of speech I am defining for you–make them yours.

To form a figure of speech, you must apply one of the following four principles of rhetorical operations:

  • addition (adiectio), also called repetition/expansion/superabundance
  • omission (detractio), also called subtraction/abridgement/lack
  • transposition (transmutatio), also called transferring
  • permutation (immutatio), also called switching/interchange/ substitution/transmutation

We’ll see how figures of speech are formed and used from these basic operations.We’ll move on to more about scenes soon.  I also want to leave myself a note.  I was asked by one of my blog readers to explain how I decide what to tell and what not to tell in my writing.

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About L.D. Alford

L. D. Alford is a novelist whose writing explores with originality those cultures and societies we think we already know. His writing distinctively develops the connections between present events and history—he combines them with threads of reality that bring the past alive. L. D. Alford is familiar with technology and cultures—he is widely traveled and earned a B.S. in Chemistry from Pacific Lutheran University, an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Boston University, a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from The University of Dayton, and is a graduate of Air War College, Air Command and Staff College, and the USAF Test Pilot School. L. D. Alford is an author who combines intimate scientific and cultural knowledge into fiction worlds that breathe reality. He is the author of three historical fiction novels: Centurion, Aegypt, and The Second Mission, and three science fiction novels: The End of Honor, The Fox’s Honor, and A Season of Honor.
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