Writers & readers: help me with an extended metaphor

As I’ve mentioned in umpteen other threads you can search for if so inclined, I’m working on a children’s novel. If anyone’s willing, I’d like a spot of feedback on a bit of imagery. Mods, if you feel this thread more appropriate for IMHO, knock yourselves out.

My story is set in the mid-1980s. The passage in question concerns one of the two protagonists, Andy, a ten-year-old black boy. On the night of his father’s funeral (which he was not allowed to attend), Andy is sneaking around his family’s home: he has gotten the idea that he can somehow help his father return to if he goes to a particular tree his father once told him to go to if he was ever lost in the park. Not willing to worry his mother and sister (as he believes it is now his duty to protect them, in his father’s absence), he is sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night to go to said tree.

Here’s the passage I’m working on:

*He found his sneakers by memory and his keys by feel. As a frontier scout, rescuing a pioneer family from scalp-hunting Indians, he tiptoed to the hamper to get jeans, socks, and sweater. As a Neanderthal hunter, stalking a mastodon whose flesh would feed his tribe for a month, he crept down to the living room to get a heavy zippered jacket from the coat rack. *

I have two concerns with the passage as written.

First, Andy’s neighborhood and upbringing is basically similar to mine, and at that age, kids I knew were more likely to sympathize with the Indians than the cowboys. I’m thinking that Andy might instead think of himself as, say, a conductor on the underground railroad, escorting a group of slaves to freedom. (In my elementary school, we heard about the abolitionist movement every February.) I need a very pithy way to say “conductor on the underground railroad,” though: one apposite to the second sentence as written.

My second concern is the word “Neanderthal” in the last sentence. Though Andy obviously isn’t narrating this story, my narrator is reporting his thoughts, and I’m not sure a ten-year-old would think “Neanderthal” or “Cro-magnon.” Do I lose much if I change that to “cave-man”? To me it sounds cacaphonous.

Feedback is greatly appreciated.

Dude, I don’t know that either metaphor makes sense in context. Why adopt different personae to collect random pieces of clothing? Why not have one mindset all through?

Can’t offer much help on the cowboys/indians/underground railroad themes. We know about 'em over here, but they’re not cultural, especially not the last (not sure about Westerns these days since they stopped being popular TV and cinema matinee fodder, either).

“Caveman”, if you gotta, unless you really want to establish the character as unusually interested in prehistory. Some kids would be, of course.

Best of luck!

At ten, I would have thought “Cro-Magnon”. Please note that the other choice is now commonly spelled “Neandertal”, to match the pronunciation.

The situation you describe (why the boy is sneaking out of the house) is really good, but using repetitive, similar metaphors to break up a simple description of actions seems contrived; I think you’re overwriting the passage. Sometimes style gets in the way of story and can prevent the reader from connecting with your protagonist. How about something like:

Just seems a bit more readable. Metaphors belong in every writer’s toolbox, but they should be used judiciously; enhancing the flavor of the four-cheese pizza of your narrative with a dash of red pepper, but not overloading the delicate, emotion-leavened crust with the weight of too much rhetorical pepperoni or thick mushroom slices of poetic imagery.

In any case, please keep working on it; I’d love to know how Andy comes to terms with his loss.

I would have thought Cro-Mag too. I knew about Neandertal as well, but I was choosing the more common pronunciation. That said, I’ve ditched the metaphor for brevity’s sake anyway.

I reached that conclusion at about 2200, when I ditched that section. Get outta my head. :slight_smile:

I was actually using the metaphor because, in the next chapter, I have the other protagonist sneaking around her house and I wanted to contrast her lack of play with Andy’s play. But I ditched both sections.

Your new irony meter is in the mail. :smiley:

Oh, I’m way past it. The quoted (and now discarded) passage is from Chapter 1; I just finished Chapter 14 the other day. Now I’m going through the story thus far and killing my darlings. But thanks for the compliment.