The proverbial…

Wise old trees

Writers worth their ink need to be making some point with their story. Beneath your storyline, there should be  a deeper message. It is a writer’s (or artist’s) job to present the human condition as they interpret it. So, once you’ve shaped the general idea, you should sit back and consider what it could be saying on a universal scale.

Consider Aesop’s Fables; each one is a tale that could be enjoyed on a superficial level by a child, yet there is a deeper meaning, or moral, which endeavors to teach the child some universal truth about life, i.e. being slow yet determined is often better than being hasty and fickle (Tortoise and the Hare).

A good place to seek inspiration is a list of proverbs. A proverb is usually a metaphor and encapsulates in simple terms, a lesson from the common experience of humanity. Here’s an exercise that might get you going: sit down and have a think about the specific meaning of the following and then go freewrite a story illustrating this philosophy.

Graveyards are full of indispensable people.

You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.

A little learning is a dangerous thing.

The belly has no ears.

Trees don’t grow to the sky.

A dumb priest never got a parish.

The only free cheese is in the mousetrap.

Eaten bread is soon forgotten.

The squeaky door gets the oil.


About suehealy

Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre and associate lecturer in playwriting at the universities of Lincoln and Portsmouth, Irish playwright Sue Healy has a PhD in modern theatre history. Her most recent stage play Imaginationship (2018) recently enjoyed a sell-out, extended run at the Finborough Theatre and is headed to the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough in August. Cow (2017) was staged at the Etcetera Theatre and Brazen (2016) ran at the King’s Head, funded by Arts Council England. Her work has been performed at the Criterion, Hackney Attic, Claremorris Festival (New Writing Award winner), Brighton Festival (the Sussex Playwrights’ Award Winner) and Sterts Theatre and has been developed by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin and support by the Peggy Ramsay Award. Her nine radio-plays have broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm. She has won prizes for her prose including the Molly Keane and HISSAC Awards and the Escalator Prize. A UEA Creative Writing MA alumna, Sue spent eleven years in Budapest editing Hungary A.M. Sue also tutors Creative Writing at CityLit. View all posts by suehealy

6 responses to “The proverbial…

  • wightrabbit

    Thanks for the tips and suggested exercises. The proverbs must be Irish. I’ve only heard the ones about flies and honey and a little learning. The others are picturesque, though!

  • Tharcion


    I love a book (or film, or song) with some depth. I’m also perfectly happy with someone producing some fiction which then entertains me via an interesting plotline, good characterisation, and nice prose. I totally disagree that “writers worth their ink need to be making a point.” Way too many people make “making a point” the point of their books. These can often become critcally acclaimed, mostly I think because critics need to be able to massively over-analyse things to give point to their lives. It’s hard to over-analyse something which was produced just for entertainment purposes.

    Meanwhile, I’ll write my little books and try to keep entertaining people. I’ve started to spot the odd theme in them, and I’m not trying to obliterate those themes just to make a point. I don’t mind them being there, I’m just not necessarily playing to them or worrying about them. The main one seems to be “be yourself; find out who you are and be that person.” If someone else wants to see themes in what I write, cool. If they tell me about them I can look and see whether I agree; it’s always interesting to get informative and thoughtful feedback.

    But, basically, people trying to “make a point” need to be really careful they aren’t actually “forcing their ideas down someone’s throat.” I’d rather be entertaining.

  • Marvin the Martian

    Nice pic – it looks like a bucket of snakes.

  • Susannah Bianchi

    You never fail to inspire me.


  • kathils

    I’ve always loved that first one.

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