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: