Metaphors and their cousin similes add color to our words. We paint word pictures in the minds of our reader by mixing and blending ideas and concepts when we use metaphors.
A metaphor is defined as a word or phrase used to compare two unlike objects, ideas, thoughts or feelings to provide a clearer description. For example from Henry David Thoreau:
“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.”
A good metaphor surprises the reader and provides a fresh clarity to the topic. The words depict a captivating image that burst into the readers’ imagination. Using metaphors is like adding art to our text.
A simile uses the word “like or as.” “My writing today is as muddy as a pile of sludge” is a simile. A metaphor would be: “I write with sludge as my ink.”
The word metaphor itself is a metaphor, coming from a Greek word meaning to "transfer" or "carry across." Metaphors "carry" meaning from one word, image, or idea to another. Metaphors help us describe, visualize, and make sense of the world around us.
Life is a journey is a common metaphor used in many forms of writing. Robert Frost’s poem (and one of my favorites) “The Road Not Taken” is an example of how poets use metaphors.
Frost in a 1962 interview said, “
“If you remember only one thing I've said, remember that an idea is a feat of association, and the height of it is a good metaphor. If you have never made a good metaphor, then you don't know what it's all about.”
Then there is Isaac Asimov's example of the metaphor: "Life is a journey, but don't worry, you'll find a parking spot at the end."
Research is showing the power of metaphors. By creating an image of words we connect our right brain, which loves pictures to our left brain where words reside. The human mind loves to make comparisons between different things, as if all of our dreams are looking for a way to find their way out of our imaginations and onto the printed page.
The simplest form of metaphor is: "The (first thing) is a (second thing)." For example, her home was a prison.
Sarah Baughman wrote a fascinating article about metaphors and challenges us as writers to write them backwards. She writes, “Metaphors can be tricky. However, it’s helpful to think of them not as puzzles writers use to baffle us, but rather as keys unlocking more layers of meaning than we could possibly gain with a literal description.”
Try a few:
Her cooking could _______________________.
A blank sheet of paper before a writer is like a __________________________________.
You are my ___________________________.
Reading the Kindred Heart Writers blog is as ______________________as a ____________.
The old women’s smile was __________________________________.
Of course metaphors can be overused; use them with caution. Watch out so you don’t jump into the pit of clichés or become too flowery. But as writers we can’t go wrong with using this figure of speech occasionally to spruce up a scene. After all, read what wise philosopher Aristotle wrote about our colorful friend, the metaphor in 330 BC:
"The greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblance."