Writer’s Tip: Avoiding “Authorism” Metaphors and References
Part of POV writing means getting into a specific character’s head. You explore the world from their view, their opinions, their memories. However, one of the simplest things that can rip the reader out of the story is when the author uses a memory, reference or metaphor that they are familiar with, but the charatcer isn’t.
Allura held the device in her palms, running her fingers over the rounded buttons and dials. It was roughly the size of an Xbox controller. “This thing will help me travel through time?” She asked.
There is nothing wrong with the paragraph, except for the fact that Allura has most definitely never seen or held an Xbox controller. She has no knowledge of it. Even if one of the paladins had described it to her in conversation before then, it probably wouldn’t be her first go-to for comparison. She would probably reference something fictional from her own culture.
Allura held the device in her palms, running her fingers over the rounded buttons and dials. It reminded her of a Xental, a trendy handheld device from her teenaged years on Altea. “This thing will help me travel through time?” She asked.
While the audience may not know what this fictional item is, they can infer its looks and purpose from Allura’s opinions and memories of it. Or, you could simply skip the comparison altogether and go with describing the object as-is.
“You guys are acting ridiculous,” said Pidge. “You remind me of an episode of Hey Arnold.”
Again, not entirely wrong, but this statement dates the author, and misrepresents the character. First of all, Voltron the show is set in the near future of earth, so media references probably haven’t been seen yet and would need to be invented.
However, if we’re going with contemporary references or a modern AU, Pidge, assuming she is around 14-15 years old, is too young to have watched a show that aired from 1996-2004. It shows that the author is familiar with this reference, but it’s inappropriate for the character.
Keith watched the robot shift back and forth on its six feet as it readied itself to attack. It was a graceful action, hypnotic and smooth. It reminded him of a waltz.
This one is a little trickier and it requires the author to really consider what Keith’s backstory is and what his go-to references are. Does Keith know what waltzing is? Yeah, generally, probably about as much as the average person. Has Keith ever watched waltz dancing? Maybe on TV at some point.
But the question is, would he use it as a prime reference?
And, in my opinion, probably not. Waltzing is not in Keith’s mind because of Keith’s lifestyle and choices. The reference comes across as authorly because it deposits information that is not natural to the character onto him and endows him with information and experience that is either unnecessary or inappropriate.
A better mental reference would be to link it to Keith’s extensive fighting experience.
Keith watched the robot shift back and forth on its six feet as it readied itself to attack. It was a graceful action, hypnotic and smooth. It reminded him of his capoera classes at the garrison.
This helps to build and solidify Keith’s character, rather than distract from it. It takes Keith’s known attributes, that of a fighter, and gives him a bit more logical backstory. He’s referencing a direct experience he’s already had, rather than an abstract one like waltzing. This is the difference between deepening the story and pulling the reader out of it.
It’s true to “write what you know” but you also need to balance that with what the character you are writing explicitly or implicitly knows or doesn’t know. When you write POV, you are writing from that character’s experiences and memories and references. Keep that in mind when you use metaphors and similies and keep them in line with the character.
Otherwise your readers will be able to peek behind the curtain and see the author there.