Grace Notes - the Measure of Your Skill, Part II

Intensify Your Reader’s Experience

As promised, here is Part Two of our examination of the merits of using “grace notes” in writing for teens, and once again, we’ll look to award-winning SHADOW SPINNER, by Susan Fletcher for examples. For those of you just joining us, see Lee Wyndam’s argument for the use of figurative language here.

Readers like to be grounded in a story. At least, I know I do. I want to know whose skin I’ve slipped into and what the environment is like. I want to forget the chair I’m sitting in, the cup I’m drinking from, the way the light falls across the page. I want to fall into the story’s landscape, and walk around as though I am the MC.

Fletcher makes this easy for her readers. She uses common figures of speech – Simile and Metaphor, both to relay her protagonist’s feelings and paint vivid pictures of the setting.  

Look first at how word pictures containing Similes make Marjan’s feelings more concrete:

Anxiety/Powerlessness -
·         When the Khatun questions Marjan about the reason Shahrazad has brought Marjan to the harem, she says, “I felt as if I were blindfolded, groping my way through a maze full of hidden traps” (37). 
·         Marjan later feels powerless against those in authority and says, “they played with our lives as if we were tiles on a game board.  As if our lives were only of value if we were serving them” (41). 
Loneliness –
·         When she first arrives at the harem, Marjan observes that she has “no one even to sit in the same room with me, to stir the stagnant perfumed air with breath” (53). 
Hopelessness/Despair -
·         Perhaps the most stirring simile occurs towards the end of the book: “My life - what was left of it - seemed to shrink and harden, like the dry, brittle husk of a rosebud starved for water” (163).
Fletcher also paints Marjan’s surroundings using figurative language. Consider how these images of setting are intensified by the addition of Simile:
·         “Columns of sunlight streamed through round holes in the high, vaulted dome.  Light mingled with the smoke from burning censers and puddled on the marble floors like liquid gold” (31)
·         “The whole city lay before us - beige flat-roofed buildings, studded with bright domes and spindly minarets....To the east, like a deep blue silk scarf, lay the river” (64).

 In the bazaar, Fletcher uses Metaphor to describe the crowd:
·         “The crowd flowed in a great, strong river to the left, with only a few trickles moving right” (81). 

Active Verbs also contribute to Fletcher’s image making:
·         “mule drivers cursing, women haggling, caged birds screeching; brass workers’ mallets pinging and clanging and bonging” (82).
Now if you are the sort of writer who believes that grace notes don’t just make for beautiful reading – that they serve the story on a practical level by clarifying the reader’s understanding of secondary characters and intensifying the reader’s experience, I have a challenge for you.
Leave a comment below in which you either
a.)   share a type of grace note NOT mentioned here
b.)   share an example of figurative language from your own work or a current book crush.

Won’t this be fun?


  1. My MC says this at the beginning of my WIP, Half-Truths:

    "I'm like a scrubby old corn stalk stuck in the middle of Grandmother's formal rose garden."

    Bethany, this was another great post, with great examples. I definitely need to read this book. I love similes and metaphors. When I teach kids I call these "muscle words"_- along with vivid verbs!

  2. What fun this is!

    Melaia, my protagonist in Breath of Angel, plays harp. When a crazy old crone loses her temper, Melaia says: "She snapped like a harp string wound too tight."