How to Write Metaphors

Making your story stand out to readers requires vivid descriptions. You have to weave senses and emotions into scenes, which might mean using a few well-placed metaphors. 

Here are a few tips to help you understand why metaphors exist, their purposes, and how to write them more effectively.

What Is a Metaphor?

A metaphor is a figure of speech that makes one idea more clear by associating or explaining it with another object or idea.

When someone does something sweet or thoughtful, their friend might say, “Aren’t you a peach!” They’re not saying that person is a literal peach. They’re complimenting their kindness by comparing it to a super sweet fruit. It creates a more vivid picture and can be more flattering than saying, “That was so nice of you.”

Metaphors also lend a more conversational tone. You wouldn’t find metaphors in professional documentation because it’s supposed to be authoritative and serious. Metaphors make a conversation less serious by making lighthearted or silly comparisons.

How to Write Metaphors

Anyone can write or create metaphors by keeping these three tips in mind.

1. For Visual Help: The Extended Metaphor

Extended metaphors last longer than a single sentence or phrase. They often appear when someone is trying to make their anxiety clear to someone else or raise the tension in a story.

Example:

“You will never do that again,” she roared, swiping at him until there was enough space for her to leap on her prey.

The woman isn’t literally a predator animal like a panther or bear, but the metaphor makes her anger seem stronger or more powerful by rooting it in an animalistic sense of survival.

2. For Humor: The Mixed Metaphor

You can also write a mixed metaphor to lighten a situation or wield your sense of humor in a story. They take readers by surprise, which might be exactly what a scene calls for.

Example:

“This isn’t going to be easy,” Anthony said.

“You know what they say,” Irvin replied, “when the rubber meets the road, we have to bite a bullet.”

Anthony laughed. “That’s literally not what anyone says.”

“Whatever—you know what I mean.”

3. For Practice: The Dead Metaphor

Writers consider any overused metaphor a dead metaphor. The idea is to avoid using them because creating something new is more interesting. It’s also a sign that you’re a more skilled writer.

Examples:

When the ghost appeared, Amy’s face turned snow white.

“Stop repeating yourself,” he said. “You’re a broken record.”

Xander would rather kick the bucket than take Friday’s exams.

Why Are Metaphors Important?

Why use metaphors at all? I’d guess you’re already unknowingly putting them in your stories, but let’s talk about a few reasons why many writers use them on purpose.

Metaphors Engage the Senses

If someone says talking with their boss is like voluntarily bashing their head into a wall, you can feel the pain in your head and the groaning urge to do anything other than that. It’s more descriptive than saying someone hates talking to their boss, so it’s more engaging.

Remember, metaphors aren’t the only way to write with your primary senses. You shouldn’t rely on metaphors to do all of your descriptions. However, they’re helpful when you want to switch up your narrative style or write what you know.

Metaphors Replace Similies

It’s easy to confuse similies and metaphors, but they’re two very different narrative tools that can make your stories better. Describing things in numerous ways demonstrates your expert control of your craft and your growth as a writer.

Similies compare two things using “like” or “as.” Metaphors claim something as another thing without those words.

Examples:

Simile: When I kissed her, her heart beat as loud as a drum.

Metaphor: When I kissed her, the drumbeat of her heart filled my ears.

Simile: The kids act like crazed animals once family game night gets competitive.

Metaphor: Our house turns into a zoo when family game night gets competitive.

Simile: His presence in my life is like a light in the darkness.

Metaphor: He’s a light in the dark.

Understand How to Write Metaphors

Anyone can write using metaphors and make their stories more engaging or descriptive. Sometimes you might also write a metaphor that your readers don’t understand.

That’s okay. It happens all the time.

The point is for your metaphors to make sense to you and serve a descriptive purpose in a sentence or scene. Avoid the overused ones and you’ll become an expert in no time.

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