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Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

Postby glorybee » Sun Nov 03, 2013 8:38 pm

An allusion is a reference to someone or something that is known from history, literature, religion, politics, sports, science, or even some other branch of culture.

Allusion is a tricky little device; you have to know your audience. If I write:

Dexter thought Hilda was a gorgeous creature; he could just imagine her standing at her balcony, pining for him.

…it’s all well and good if my reader recognizes the allusion to Romeo and Juliet, but if my reader doesn’t, she’ll just be left scratching her head—where did Hilda get a balcony?

But if your reader knows what you’re alluding to, using allusion is a great way to “show, not tell.” For example, I could write:

Abner was a big guy. He was gentle and simple, but if he got upset, he could be terrifying.

OR, using allusion, I could write:

Abner was the kind of guy who you just expected to have a dead mouse in his pocket, just because it felt soft.

If you haven’t read Of Mice and Men, you’ll have no idea what that means, but if you have read it, you’ll have an instant picture of Abner, and all that is implied by his comparison to Lenny in the novel.

If you know that your audience is likely to be Christians with a working knowledge of scripture, you can use biblical allusions, referring to a character as a good Samaritan or saying that a beleaguered character felt as if he’d spent three days in the belly of a whale.

An allusion can be just a few words in a sentence, or an entire piece can allude to another, almost paying homage to it by either satirizing it, or borrowing its style, its characters, or its plot. It can be very direct, mentioning the other word and its author directly. Or it can be quite subtle, as in the first few examples I’ve given here.

Why might you want to use allusion in your writing?

1. As I mentioned earlier, by using an allusion, you can show rather than tell.

2. It’s a way of helping your reader to make connections and to draw some thoughtful conclusions about your characters or their motivations. If I write, Jan said, “I love this tofu lasagna! It’s delicious!” She immediately felt her nose, to see if it was growing, my readers can deduce that Jan was, like Pinocchio, telling a lie. It’s just a more interesting way of writing it.

3. It can act as foreshadowing. If I describe a character’s actions as prodigal¸ my readers may well deduce that he’s about to commit some rash and rebellious acts before eventually repenting.

This is the point where I usually link to a challenge entry of my own that illustrates the week’s lesson. Unfortunately, I’ve spent the better part of an afternoon reading through old entries, and I didn’t find a single one; apparently it’s a literary device that I don’t use much (or at all). When I was writing as Addie Pleasance, I wrote one story called "Marmaduke and Mackerel", alluding to the old Marmaduke comic strip, but that particular strip wasn’t chosen in any way to help with plot or character—it was just chosen for the alliteration in the title. If I ever start to write again, I’ll be more conscious of using allusion to enhance my writing.


Homework (do one, some, or all of these):

1. Write a sentence or two that contains an allusion, preferably something that alludes to a familiar story from literature or culture. See if you can get the allusion to make your passage “show”, or to force your reader to experience an aha! moment.

2. Tell why you have chosen to use allusion in your writing, and (if possible) link to an example of it here.

3. Give another example of allusion from something you’ve read, and tell why it is effective there.

4. Make a comment or ask a question about what I have said about allusion here.


Please tell other FaithWriters about this forum!
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Re: Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

Postby swfdoc1 » Sun Nov 03, 2013 11:44 pm

I have alluded to Francis Thompson’s poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” twice. The reason: I think it is such a powerful metaphor for God’s efforts on behalf of our salvation.

The first time I used it was in my (unpublished :( ) novel, A Persistent Pursuit. When you see “persistent pursuit” and "hound of heaven” together in this post, the connection is obvious. But in the book, "hound of heaven” is not used and its connection to the title is not explained until the last chapter.

The second time I used it was in my Challenge entry, “The Hound of Heaven Runs Into a Bar.” This piece has a second allusion: The Wrestler, which alludes to Genesis 32:22-32.
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Re: Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

Postby glorybee » Mon Nov 04, 2013 8:49 am

Steve, thanks for these!

I'm familiar with "The Hound of Heaven," but I'm curious--how do you think "The Hound of Heaven Runs Into a Bar" would be perceived by those who are not?

Anything else to say about the use of allusion?
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Re: Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

Postby swfdoc1 » Mon Nov 04, 2013 10:46 am

Well, I used the "Hound of Heaven" in that piece because I was writing to a Christian audience. I figured some of the readers would be familiar with the poem (at least the title and the concept). I hoped the rest would intuit the concept from the context or else google the phrase. For folks in those categories, I hoped the reaction would be in some small degree akin to the typical reaction to the poem:

"The name is strange. It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract, rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit." The Neumann Press Book of Verse.

Off the top of my head, I’ve only thought of a few things to add and they have more to do with reading than with writing:

I think many of authors include a lot of allusions in their works that cannot be known to all of their readers and often can be known to only a handful of their readers or maybe to none until the author’s “papers” are published. That’s one reason why there are so many annotated editions of works. Although I have never gotten all the way through it, I have started Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice several times in which he annotates Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Since Gardner does NOT try to interpret Alice based on symbolism—and haven’t there been a lot of bizarre attempts at that—most of his annotations are to allusions.

Similarly, some authors include allusions that are quite obvious when the works are published, but that become obscure over time. Again, annotated editions can help.

Of course, in both these cases, the annotator can be wrong.

One interesting phenomenon is that authors can often forget their own allusions. The urban myth (or perhaps the true story) has it that Don McLean jammed his song “American Pie,” so full of allusions and symbols that he later couldn’t remember what everything meant. Whether that is true of him or not, I actually had that happen to me in a poem I dashed off in a hurry. After a couple of years, I re-read it and didn’t know what everything referred to.
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"When the Round Table is broken every man must follow Galahad or Mordred; middle
things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Re: Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

Postby JayDavidKing » Mon Nov 04, 2013 5:23 pm

Jan, I am linking to a challenge piece because I have a question. In this piece I (hopefully) alluded to the plan of salvation throughout all of it. After reading your description of Allusion, I am doubting whether it really is allusion. Perhaps the "blood red spot at the center" is an allusion but NOT the entire article. Am I correct... or not? Rules of the Game http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=25721

Allusion assignment: The President's strong faith-based optimism had been totally misunderstood by his constituents... finally he understood Pollyanna.

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Re: Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

Postby glorybee » Mon Nov 04, 2013 5:39 pm

JayDavidKing wrote:Jan, I am linking to a challenge piece because I have a question. In this piece I (hopefully) alluded to the plan of salvation throughout all of it. After reading your description of Allusion, I am doubting whether it really is allusion. Perhaps the "blood red spot at the center" is an allusion but NOT the entire article. Am I correct... or not? Rules of the Game http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=25721

Allusion assignment: The President's strong faith-based optimism had been totally misunderstood by his constituents... finally he understood Pollyanna.


Jay, I think you're right that the entire piece isn't really an allusion. It's more like an extended metaphor, comparing a person's life to a game. The allusion might actually be to the board game that really exists, called The Game of Life, in which players marry, start careers, buy homes, etc. Your version of The Game of Life is a spiritual one, but anyone who has played the board game might draw some parallels with it.

The "blood red spot at the center" might be considered an allusion to 1 John 1:7.

I like your assignment with the allusion to Pollyanna. Very well done!
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Re: Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

Postby Caleb Cheong » Tue Nov 05, 2013 4:03 am

Answer to (1) And (4)


Hi Jan!


(1) I came across an allusion made by Lincoln to the Declaration of Independence when he spoke of " a nation dedicated to the preposition that all men are created equal."

(4) I totally agree with you that many readers, especially those with no American History backgrounds, may not spot the allusion at all.

Thank you!

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Re: Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

Postby Caleb Cheong » Tue Nov 05, 2013 6:26 am

Hi Jan!

Would you think that this can be a case of double allusion here if I write:-

We too are blessed like Joash,' hidden in the house of the Lord.'


The direct allusion is 2Kings 11:1-4 and a reminder of the closing words in Psalm 23: 6.


Just a curious question!

:thankssign

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Re: Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

Postby glorybee » Tue Nov 05, 2013 10:30 am

Caleb Cheong wrote:Hi Jan!

Would you think that this can be a case of double allusion here if I write:-

We too are blessed like Joash,' hidden in the house of the Lord.'


The direct allusion is 2Kings 11:1-4 and a reminder of the closing words in Psalm 23: 6.


Just a curious question!

:thankssign

Caleb


Caleb, this is more direct than an allusion. You've actually quoted the last phrase of the scripture passage, making this a simple comparison of our blessings with those of Joash.

It would be an allusion if you were sure enough of your audience's familiarity with Joash to write something like

As long as the Oppressives were in power, we hid our house church from their eyes, giving ourselves the code name "Joash."

The circumstances aren't exactly the same, but the allusion to Joash would bring his story of hiding from the enemy's eyes to your reader, and they could draw some conclusions about the Oppressives and the house church (obviously, I've made up the circumstance--but it's not too far from the truth).
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Re: Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

Postby lish1936 » Tue Nov 05, 2013 12:38 pm

Jan,

I can't seem to get my head around this one. A question about the difference between allusion and allegory keeps getting in the way. I was too late this week to get in my Challenge entry in for "Fish Out of Water", but your # 3 reference to a "character's action as prodigal" reminded me of the story. I hope it's okay to post it here, because I don't have a Faithwriter link.

Would this story be an allusion :?: :roll: If not, why not.


Thanks,

Lillian


The Prodigal Partner

When conviction speaks to the soul, the heart listens.

Calvin was just beginning to feel the full impact of his choice. The decision to leave Peabody and strike out on his on was showing up on the loss column of his ledger. And judging from the day’s receipts the trend didn’t look good. He had to find someone to replace his long-time, childhood friend and partner before he went bankrupt?

With barely a glance at the wall, Calvin flipped off the switch to the last office light, and stood for a moment in the darkened doorway. He stared at the insistence of dusk, and the deepening shadows capture his thoughts and cover them with gloom.

Had he made a mistake when he terminated the partnership? Could it be that Peabody was right and he was wrong for listening to Annabelle? He’d heard from a few of his former employees who decided to stay with his former partner that Peabody’s firm was about to embark on an expansion program, even hiring additional employees.

“Stop being so pious,” Annabelle chided him when thoughts of leaving the firm were still seeds that had not yet taken root. She saw little reason not to accept clients who hired a lawyer to help with tax evasion and money laundering.

And long after he'd stopped asking for her advice, she gave it anyway.

“Money is money. What difference does it make where it comes from or where it’s going?”

In the end, her voice drowned out all that remained of his conscience–one that was shaped by what he now concluded were his father’s puritanical principles, and his childhood belief in God. Strange, but Peabody reminded him of his father and… A lightening flashback of Mrs. James, his Sunday school teacher, completed his thoughts. Peabody sat behind him, when they were students in her class.

“Oh, no,” Peabody exclaimed when Calvin approached him with the idea. “What makes you think I’d be interested in anything remotely related to that? I’m surprised you would."

“Why not,” Calvin shot back. “There’s plenty of money out there, if you would just get off your religious high horse. Think about how the business would grow?”

But Peabody would have none of his argument.

Calvin countered Peabody’s stubborn stance with his own. “Then, I’ll go it alone.”

And now…While his thoughts trudge through the mire of regrets, Calvin locks the office door and heads for home. He pulls into the driveway and the purring of the idling engine goes unnoticed as he puts the finishing touches on what he’s going to say to Annabelle.

“It’s just not working out, Honey. Call it conscience, upbringing, parental influence, and, yes, I’ll call it God, but I’m miserable. And I would be even if the business wasn’t in free fall.”

He’s surprised by Annabelle’s response.

“I guess we’re just two prodigals who have lost our way. I’m miserable too. Closing the business will be the easy part. Asking Peabody to take you on again as a partner may not turn out as we expect.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

Calvin arrived at the diner a few minutes before Peabody. He had decided not to tell him why he wanted to meet for lunch. While he waited, he rehearsed his confession.

Remember when you seemed so surprised at my willingness to represent clients who tried to avoid the law? I was wrong, and I’ve asked God to forgive me. I’m filing for bankruptcy, and will need to find a job. Would you be willing to take me back as your partner?

“Hi, Calvin,” Peabody’s greeting interrupted Calvin. “Have you been waiting long?”

“Just a few minutes.” The two walked quickly towards an empty table and sat down.

“So, how are things?”

Calvin clasped his sweating palms beneath the table and leaned towards Peabody. He swallowed hard, hoping to wet his dry mouth.

“Not good. That’s why I asked you to meet me for lunch.”

His rehearsed speech all but forgotten, Calvin blurted out what was in his heart.

“I’ve made a mistake, Peabody. And I’ve come to ask your forgiveness.”
Peabody reached across the table and took Calvin’s hand.

“God has forgiven me too many times. How can I not forgive you? I was just about to hire more staff. You’re just the one I was looking for.

For a moment, the two men stared at each other across the table. The prodigal partner had returned.

“Wealth gained by dishonesty will be diminished” (Prov.3:11).
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Re: Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

Postby lish1936 » Tue Nov 05, 2013 12:48 pm

P.S. Don't ask me why there's a question mark after bankrupt. :lol:

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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

Postby glorybee » Tue Nov 05, 2013 12:59 pm

Lillian, yes--your title obviously alludes to the parable of the prodigal son, and there are several spots in the story where you make the same allusion.

It would be rare to call an entire story an allusion; it's more likely that there will be allusions within the story (or, as in your case, in the title). On the other hand, allegories differ in that they are more symbolic in nature, and the whole piece continues that symbolism throughout.

In your story, it wouldn't be accurate to say that the businessman symbolized the prodigal son, or that the prodigal son symbolizes the businessman. Rather, the reference to the word "prodigal" suggested certain actions to your reader: rebellion, lawlessness, eventual repentance. So--allusion, rather than allegory.

Hope this makes sense to you! Let me know if I can clarify further.
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Re: Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

Postby lish1936 » Tue Nov 05, 2013 1:21 pm

Yes, Jan, it does make sense - especially the idea of an allusion being within the story. I also think I was confusing illusion with allusion. :oops:

Associating allude with allusion also helps.

:thankssign Lillian
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I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

Postby glorybee » Tue Nov 05, 2013 2:11 pm

I just came across another lovely example of allusion from a book I'm currently editing, and had to share it here:

Salty wind whips my hair into a frenzy, turning me into an angry Medusa.

The allusion is to the Medusa of mythology, whose hair was made of snakes. It's a great image, but it goes farther than metaphor, because the character is going through a time of turmoil and anger, almost insanity. The allusion to Medusa (who was a very unpleasant gal) tells the reader something about the character in the book.
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Re: Be A Better Writer--ALLUSION

Postby swfdoc1 » Tue Nov 05, 2013 3:04 pm

Lillian’s allusion didn’t “work” for me. Jan, since you didn’t indicate the same, I guess it did work for you. I’ll tell you why it didn’t work for me, and then I’d love to get your reaction, as well as Lillian’s, as the author.

It’s true Jan, as you said that the reference to “prodigal” will make people think of rebellion, lawlessness, eventual repentance. But only because those are things the prodigal son DID. But those things, of course, are not what MADE him a prodigal. So, for this to “work” for me—even if Lillian wanted to emphasize those bad behaviors—there ought also to be something in there about being prodigal. But, unless I’m missing something, there is NOTHING about being prodigal. When I read Annabelle’s line “I guess we’re just two prodigals,” I said, “Huh??” And the same with the last sentence. There’s plenty about money in the story but nothing about being prodigal with it.

Thoughts?
Steve
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things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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