“A metaphor is the act of the imagination, figuring one thing to be another.” Lord Kames.
This wonderful quote kicked off an urge in me, to find some tips on metaphors.
I scoured my how-to-write books only to discover, not much is said about them. Odd. I consider
metaphors to be the life blood of an authors work. A great metaphor, allegory, simile - they’re
all limbs from the same body, can carry your piece. They can give it tone, vision, atmosphere
and when they go wrong, they can sabotage all three of these things.
Here’s some rules to keep in mind -
* Metaphors need to relate to your subject - Although in themselves, metaphors are a
juxtaposition, a jumbling of an unrelated object to another - such as when Edgar Allen Poe
says The past is a pebble in my shoe - remember that time and place are important. His
metaphor is timeless but lets tweak it, say I'm still writing in Poe’s era , the 1800s, could
I than say - The past is a pebble in my Reebok? No, I couldn’t.
But it would be fine in a modern novel.
* Metaphors should relate to your characters - Would a tween say “I feel like a tax write-off.”
Probably not- they don’t know what a tax write-off is. But a guy with his overbearing blind date,
( who has just yanked the bill out of his hand ) might. Keep your characters interests, social
status, personality in mind before creating one.
* No Mixing - metaphors are like placing one image over another to highlight the initial object
and give it a fresh vision. Imagine likening a big old Cadillac to a boat, rocking it’s way through
the current of traffic to the coast. You can’t jam another image in there without confusing the
reader. If you suddenly say - The big old boat of a Cadillac rocked through the traffic towards
the coast where it plowed up the beach like a tank storming Normandy - the reader goes say
what? What is this a car or a transformer? It was a boat and now it’s a tank.
Here’s another metaphor to describe what goes on when you mix your metaphors - Imagine
you, the author, are a witness - describing a criminal to the police sketch artist ( the reader )
as he is poised to add up all the info you’ve given him, you start waffling - He had ears like
mini satellite dishes yeah, yeah, real elf ears. The sketch artist will go hold on! Are they elf
ears or satellite dishes? Don’t be stubborn and say both. The reader will toss you out of there
and pick up someone with better vision. Don’t mix. Keep your initial vision clear.
Okay that’s basically it for the rules - now on to the good stuff.
How to cultivate a Metaphor.
* First things first - you have to plant metaphor seeds. Seriously. All a metaphors is, is a
substitute image - likening one thing to another. The easiest way to generate oodles of
comparisons is to start filling up your brain with images. Pictures, visuals are the easiest
things to relate to because that’s exactly what’s going on in writing, you write a word which
paints an image in the readers mind. Say I write - Green Pear - you can hardly
stop the image from appearing.
Scour the internet for images - Gather things pertaining to the earth, to animals, to houses
and architecture, to tools and appliances. To pop culture and art. To history and space. To
toys and nostalgia. To machines and vehicles and...and.. You get the picture. Go to the
library - buy their discard books - like wildflower or gem guides, scan the local thrift
stores for National Geographics - a superb mix of social studies and wildlife. Remember
even if it’s dated - it can still spark off relevant comparisons.
* Have a fresh outlook - when you look for images be diverse - don’t think well I’m not
writing a fantasy so I won’t look up castles. That’s a problem, you’re thinking a castle
image is only pertinent to fantasy - however a castle image could be the key to a story
about a disillusioned housewife who is hardly living a dream life and baking cookies using
castle cookie cutters. This could revolutionize the whole scene.
Don’t label ideas or items - that in itself is a sheer cliche buster - spooky doesn’t have to
be a creepy old house, cobwebs, and crypts. It can be anything if you have the vision for it.
Don’t just look at objects and see them as they are, but as what they could be, and have
been. A good way to explore this is go to a sell sight like Ebay - type in something like
Chinese Blossom and all kinds of diverse objects will come up. I looked up matadors the
other day and came up with a drinking cup made from a bull’s horn - interesting image!
And something I never would have thought of.
* Images are all fine an dandy but knowing about the image is a huge bonus - A picture
of a rose is beautiful and can spark metaphors for tightly wound inner layers, -
a rose-within-a-rose-within-a-rose, to it’s color, down to it’s sharp thorns. But that
doesn’t help for the scent of a rose, field work or gathering some funky history about
your object is a must. That way you can surprise your reader with a rose petal jam
metaphor - It was as pretty and fragrant and flavorless as a spoonful of grandma’s
rose petal jam. Learn the science of objects, learn their history.
* Study metaphor rich poets - it will help you discover the lyrical beauty of a
metaphor - read them out loud, hear harmony of syllables. This is wonderful for
creating quick, precise and often elegant metaphors.
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