Author’s Corner: Creating Fresh Metaphors

I talked the last time about the main types of metaphor. Now, as promised, I will try to provide some help creating fresh ones, and give an indication of where best to place them in your work

Tip 1: Avoid clichés

As for spotting clichéd language, you can use the advice of George Orwell: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”

Most people can pick out a dead metaphor but it is possible to miss some.

Tip 2: Change a cliché into a mixed metaphor

The most effective mixed metaphors will combine two clichés that have the same general meaning. Some will work, others will not. Be playful and try multiple ideas.

For example, if someone is working too hard, he’s burning the candle at both ends, or burning the midnight oil. Combined, he is: burning the midnight oil from both ends.

Silly perhaps, but this can be a quick route to some effective comedy – so let yourself roll with it and have a blast.

Author R.L. Herron

Author R.L. Herron

Tip 3: Experiment to create new metaphors

Let’s say you’re writing about someone with a great smile.

Write the word smile down on a blank bit of paper (or a new document if you’re a computer-only writer), and then the word bright – the adjective you want to link to his smile.

Now think … what things are bright?

The sun? The moon? Diamonds? Knives? Light bulbs?

A straightforward metaphor would compare your two nouns.

  • Her smile was the sun.
  • His smile is a diamond.

You could leave it here – but things can get much better if you stretch a little further…

Tip 4: Think further

Pick a few favorites; let’s use the sun again for this example:

Make a brain dump: what does the sun make you think of?

Sunshine, rays, warm, hot, radiation, radiance, glowing, bright, distant, the center of solar system, planets orbit, constant, radiant, life-giving, dawn, sunset, sunrise.

Implied metaphors use these indirect links to the sun:

  • Warmth radiated from his smile.

These are implied metaphors because you are comparing a smile to the sun, but not writing the word sun. The reader is now forced to use their imagination and engage with the text.

But there could still be room for bigger, bolder things …

Tip 5:  Combine ideas

Make an extended metaphor using several implied metaphors together.

  • My life orbited his smile. I waited, cold and distant, anticipating the warmth of its dawn to bask in its life-giving rays.

Okay … that’s not the best the thing I’ve ever written, but you get the idea. Here, we have an image of a character obsessed with seeing a smile. It leads to questions from the reader. Why is the narrator left so cold without this smile? Is this a weird, potentially abusive relationship? A mother focused on making her son happy?

There’s a lot a writer can pack into such a metaphor. It may take a lot of practice to have yours start coming out, shall we say, less than clunky – but it’s well worth it in the end.

Tip 6: Don’t overdo it

Sometimes, a simple description is more than enough. Needless metaphors, or an over-abundance of them throughout your manuscript, will weaken the impact of the good ones you have … and like individual words, metaphors become annoying to readers if they’re trotted out repetitively.

If you find yourself slotting in metaphors constantly, in an attempt to spice up your writing in a literary sense, reel it in. Your priority should always be getting on with the story, not sounding as majestically verbose as you possibly can.

About R.L. Herron

R.L. Herron, the author of multiple works of fiction, including several Readers' Favorite medal winners, lives and writes in Michigan with his lovely wife, an ugly mortgage, and one extremely large cat. His books are all available on Amazon and online with Barnes & Noble. Visit Author R.L. Herron's Website, Broken Glass.

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