Author’s Corner: How to Get the Most from Your Metaphors

Metaphors

What are they, and when is the best time to deploy them? What should you avoid at all costs?

Metaphors are, and will likely always be, a major pillar of most fiction. Used to liven up descriptive writing, metaphors are primarily a comparison tool. Along with similes, they make up most of our well-known ‘figure of speech’ idioms.

However, where a simile uses “like a …” or “as a …” – for example, her eyes sparkled like jewels – metaphors are a way of describing an emotion, object or abstract as though it were something else. In this example case: her eyes were sparkling jewels. It’s a small difference – but used properly, it can pack some serious emotive punch into your writing.

Author R.L. Herron

Author R.L. Herron

So, I’m going to run you through the world of metaphors, and how you can get the most out of using them in your writing.

To begin, it’s helpful to know that there are several types of metaphor.

  • Direct metaphor
  • Implied
  • Extended
  • Mixed
  • Dead

Some are useful now and then, others are universal, and that last one should be avoided … like the plague (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Direct

The most basic metaphor is where an action, object or abstract idea is described as something else. The sentence is usually short, which gives it a big impact in a paragraph and increases the pace of the story.

  • Hope is a shiny pebble in the gloom.
  • Her words were a blade in his gut.

Implied

Implied metaphors are a powerful tool – but subtle. Instead of directly transposing one thing onto another, you obliquely relate them.

These metaphors require more effort to create, but if you conjure a fresh one, they can make your reader sit up and pay attention without hesitation.

  • The Porsche crouched on the grid, growling in anticipation.
  • Curiosity can be dangerous; we have to keep it carefully chained and muzzled.

Extended

These are some of the most powerful and thought-provoking metaphors you’ll come across. Not every story will use this technique, but it has the potential to turn an okay story into a prize-winning novel.

The example below, from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, is a prime example of an extended metaphor, using the language of scenes, actors, and parts to describe life itself:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms …

Mixed

A mixed metaphor is a succession of ludicrous comparisons – where two (or more) metaphors are used that are illogical or incongruous, often adding humor, or a sense of the bizarre, to a scene.

  • It’s as easy as falling off a piece of cake.
  • A leopard cannot change his shorts.
  • He’s not the sharpest spoon in the mailbox.

Dead

Also called clichéd metaphors, these are figures of speech that are so overused they’ve lost their impact.

  • The ball is in your court.
  • Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
  • He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
  • You’re skating on thin ice.

Yes … dead metaphors should be avoided wherever possible.

So, now that we’ve brushed up on the main types of metaphor, my next article will talk about creating fresh ones, and where best to place them in your work.

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.

Comments

  1. Good information. Looking forward to next post.

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