Apr 15, 2011

M is for Metaphors, Magic for Manuscripts.

Metaphors can be magic for your manuscript, spells that weave enchantment through figurative language. Okay, enough playing with the metaphor, it's when you say one thing is another, as a way of creating imagery in your writing. For example; Sophie lost all composure and became a pig at the dinner table, an aggressive sow, her snout greedily munching on the slops. Now, Sophie is not actually a pig, we are creating an image for the reader to picture Sophie eating in a way that disgusts the other dinner guests. If we wanted a simile, we'd say Sophie was like a pig, meaning she is similar.

Like all figurative language, metaphors can be a device that enhances your writing, but be careful not to overuse it (you will tire out your reader) or make it cliche like it's raining cats and dogs or people drowning in each other's eyes (hmm, like being a pig when you eat? Um, yeah. Okay, sometimes the cliches comes to mind first - sorry). But, they could be used effectively as dialogue for a character that would use a lot of trite expressions.

Another problem is when metaphors are mixed in a sentence or paragraph and provide conflicting or confusing comparisons.

For example: I could see by her expression she was a crazed dog with a chip on her shoulder. I tried to leave the shop but she drove at me like an angry bull. There are too many different images here that do not organically sit together well. The safest route is to keep metaphors simple, just one comparison for a passage, however, clever writers can continue with a metaphor and keep the flow cohesive. Take this example from English Essential (Mem Fox & Lyn Wilkinson): Writing is a bumpy road, full of obstacles, potholes and loose stones. ...If you can avoid these problem areas your writing stands a better chance of reaching its destination without being wrecked on the way.

So how do we master the extended metaphor?
In Manuscript Makeover, Elizabeth Lyon suggests:
  • Use riff-writing (explained in an earlier post) to explore the connections that come naturally when you write without restriction.
  • Look up your word in a dictionary and thesaurus to expand your 'language' on it.
  • Consider your character from different angles, not just what you 'see'. Think about the geographical location, era, setting, and emotions. 
Start a section in your writer's notebook for cool metaphors and similes. Copy them from other narratives that work well and then try to add some of your own. If you want to build up a bank of metaphors/similes try doing some writing exercises finding metaphors for commonly used adjectives and adverbs. For example, find a metaphor/simile for fast, slow, happy, evil, white, black, red and whatever else you can think of.
Manuscript Makeover is a book I recommend to ALL writers. It's one of my favourites.

Some other links for metaphors/similes:


  1. I enjoy mixing metaphors. But I must say I don't tend to do it in my writing.

  2. Great post. Nothing like a good metaphor, to spice up the stew. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  3. You have an interesting blog! Thanks for your comment on mine. God bless.

  4. Wonderful blog, and interesting also.

    Thanks for your lovely comment.

  5. Great post. I have been caught a few times with mixed metaphors. I'll definitely give this book a try, it sounds quite informative and interesting.

  6. well maple syrup and mango's...
    great post.
    A to Z Blog Challenge Participant
    Jeremy [iZombie]

  7. I love metaphors like a chubby kid loves chocolate. (I also really love chocolate)

  8. This is a wonderful suggestion that I will follow like chick follows its mother hen (hey I used one may not be great but I did it). Thanks for the information I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts and learning about how to write better.

  9. Great post. Thanks for the book recommendation. :)

  10. I use my thesaurus for this very purpose--great tips!

  11. Metaphors, handled well, greatly enhance a story. But they have to be well integrated and only used if they truly "fit."

    Excellent M words and post. I just saw your comment at Karen Walker's and came over to meet you.
    Ann Carbine Best’s Long Journey Home

  12. One of my favorite metaphors was "it was as dark as a secret." I think it came from a 10 year old during creative writing time.

    Great post!

  13. The wizard drew me in, magically... or maybe it was Metaphor (the name of my cat. Alas, her sister Simile is no longer with us.)

    'Tenny event, good post, good lessons to learn.

  14. I love metaphors as long as they aren't used too often. I recently bought a couple more books on the craft, but that won't stop me from keeping my eye out for this one.

  15. You're right on here Charmaine. What would writing be without metaphors? So easy to mix, thought that is a great technique for humour at times.


  16. I can't even think anymore - I'll stick with photography, LOL! Thanks for visiting. I'm a new follower. Have a great weekend :-)

  17. I love living in a different time zone, I post, go to bed, and wake up to lots of wonderful comments. Thanks :)

    Will come around and get you all... oops, I mean, I'll come and 'visit' you all on your blogs ;-j

  18. Excellent post on metaphors. I think when they are well done, we barely notice they are there.

    Sharon (An A to Z Challenger)

  19. Thanks for all the lovely tips, and the book suggestion. I found this post very useful.

  20. One thing that helps keep me from mixing metaphors is to keep the comparisons down to items I've included in my novel. I find metaphors make more sense when doing this than if I went for a jarring comparison.

    Thanks for sharing!

  21. I love Manuscript Makeover. Riff writing has changed the way I edit. Love love love it. :D