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I tend to chide myself when I explain things very literally. However, I've noticed some excellent literature uses some very literal explanation of the scene and even the character's emotions while keeping you immersed and getting you to really feel the gravity of the scene. How and when should I use literal language to explain the scene, and when should I use metaphors to paint the scene?

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Think of it as a continuum. The more literal the description, the closer you bring the reader to the raw sensory data of the scene. The more metaphorical the description, the more deeply you are in the POV of the main character and/or the narrator.

People almost never experience the world directly --it would be too overwhelming and confusing. So we experience it through mental constructs --or in other words, metaphors. Thus, metaphors are a perfectly appropriate way to depict the world as seen though either your eyes, or your character's eyes. You'll want to push more to the literal end of the spectrum for things that are unexpected and unfamiliar; or in times of high danger or emotion. In other words, literal descriptions are good anywhere the POV character is more likely to be doing more direct observation and less interpretation.

There's some famous advice, by the well-known writing coach Dwight Swain, that when you depict an experience, you can depict a range of aspects of it. You don't have to include them all, but it's important to have the ones you do include in their natural order: Direct impression --> reflex response --> interpreted impression --> considered response. For example, here's a brief passage in a reversed order: "I knew I would only have one chance to escape. The thing glowed like a whole army of angels, causing me to squint my eyes against how blindingly white it was." It doesn't have any flow, and is likely to annoy the reader. Now, here it is in a more natural order: "The light was blindingly white, causing me to squint my eyes against it. It glowed like a whole army of angels, and I knew I would have only one chance to escape." That's not necessarily great writing, but it has some flow, because the order aligns with how we actually experience the world.

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