Want to Make Your Writing More Vivid? Use Metaphors

If you want to add some life to your writing, to give it breath and a heartbeat, use metaphors. They’re the lifeblood of any vibrant, vivid writing, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.

I’ve been using metaphors in my writing with great success over the last several years. It marks a significant improvement in the quality of my writing, and I’ve garnered more and better opportunities. Whether there’s a connection between the two, I don’t know.

I’m a big fan of metaphors, and I like them better than similes. From the Greek, metaphora means to transfer or to carry over. It basically carries a comparison from one idea or item to another.

There is one difference between metaphors and similes: similes use the words like or as in them, metaphors do not.

Similes

  • Life is like a box of chocolates. (Forrest Gump
  • There was a great shout like the roaring of an airplane.
  • Similes are like metaphors, but only weaker.

Metaphors

I don’t like similes. They’re weak. They’re the pencil-necked milksop of literary devices. They say things are similar, but not quite that item. Life is like a box of chocolates, but not really.

Take a look at the last metaphor example: “Men’s words are bullets.” That’s a powerful phrase. It doesn’t say they’re like bullets, that they remind people of bullets, or “words can hurt people sort of like bullets can hurt people.” That’s just smarmy, wishy-washy pap.

“Men’s words are bullets,” on the other hand, makes you feel the the emotional damage that can be done by words, feeling the piercing, crashing power of a bullet fired from a large gun.

If you want to make your writing more powerful and add more life to your words, sprinkle some metaphors into your articles and watch what they’ll do for you.

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.

    Comments

    1. I agree that bad metaphors, or at least technically inaccurate metaphors, are better than no metaphors.

      However, while you can’t reuse bullets, you can return fire with your own set of them.

      • beedy bucknell says:

        been typing variations of – similies equal poor literature. thank you for being the only other bod, i could find on the web, that agrees. so agree that the “like” suggests it’s not the same thing, ambiguous and thus why bother telling reader, if you’re only ballparking the point. currently i am lumping similies in with generic adjectives such as the word elegant, that have so much ownership to other stuff, that again it is a wasted opportunity using such, to describe, when you could have nailed it with, just so, precision. dont know why i’m sayin all this, just chuffed someone else sees the namby pamby, oh so lazy, weedy design of a simile.

      • beedy bucknell says:

        SORRY for a second comment without a response in-between, bad form? but i believe i have found, in you, someone who can answer the odd question, without me being seen as inane. Usually my questions travel over know-it-alls heads. My question does regard metaphors and is this- I’ve taken a liking to theming a paragraph with related metaphors, say, 2 or 3 metaphors in same section along the lines of one subject. For example the movements of a woman, way she walks, way she talks, her temper all linked by metaphors with say a fluid/water/river type theme. I’m worried that it may be seen as predictable, with an “oh, let me guess, he’s gonna link this woman puffing the cushions with her fat arse, as she sits down to something dropped in water!” i go for unpredictable/surprising metaphors, but worried that using a few in a row as a theme may lessen the whole feel. Also is it bad form to use a metaphor on one sentence and then on the very next sentence use another metaphor of something totally different. I’m worried though not technically a mixed metaphor, having them so close together, may give the feel that I am. I think if laid out right, it’s fine, but i’m hoping you can quell that lil’ voice in my head or better still get me to see it all in a new light. apologies for the tired adjectives here, but I’m not tryin to impress, just sneak some free wisdom. a nod in ur direction from me, if u can find the time to pull me up or push me on.

        • Hmmm. My brain goes two different ways with this:

          1) I like the idea of using several thematic metaphors — say, water/river — in a single paragraph, or even a scene. As a humorist, I LOVE the surprising metaphor that catches everyone off guard. That’s how the rule of 3 in humor works — predictable item A, predictable item B, surprise item 3. I did that with my kids a few days ago, when we were talking about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I said their names were Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Jeff, which cracked them up.

          So using a theme of metaphors is good, and creating the surprising one at the end would be funny. Going from river metaphor to river metaphor would be good, and then end it up with a desert metaphor or a dam metaphor, for example.

          2) As far as “mixing” the metaphors go, that might be a little unsettling and noticeable. If you were using a water metaphor in one sentence and an ice cream one in the second, that could be a problem. “She flowed into the room, swimming through the crowd to the bar. Her sundae glass hips bumped against the dancers who melted on the floor to the music.” Campy writing aside, that’s a rather jarring usage of two different metaphors.

          BUT if you sort of strung them together in a linear fashion of causality or time — rain clouds to rainstorm to river to bathtub — would be kind of cool.

          Of course, keeping in mind that this doesn’t always work, because a lot of people don’t pick up on literary devices very well, and so it might be lost. It’s the literary reader who notices them, but I think a lot of people — me included — sometimes miss the symbolism and analogies authors work so hard to create.

          • beedy bucknell says:

            thanks for the reply, the quick to reply. like ur idea to give blending linear a go. hope u don’t mind, i might ask for ur views now and then, (now and then means one or 2 a year at most, don’t worry) on related topics, thanks again for ur time. highest regards

    2. Perhaps most fascinating is that even bad metaphors are often better than no metaphors. Saville’s quip that equates words to bullets, for example, is plainly broken. Bullets cannot be reused by enemies, they are turned into misshapen metal slugs when they strike a target. Bullets leave their accelerant behind. A more accurate analogy would be arrows or maybe rocks, since you can pick them up and throw them back.

      It doesn’t matter though, the metaphor has stuck. Metaphors are brain candy.
      .-= Robby Slaughter´s last blog ..Featured Article: Training Wheels =-.

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    3. […] couple months ago, I wrote about why metaphors make for more powerful writing than similes. I said: I don’t like similes. They’re weak. They’re the pencil-necked milksop of literary […]

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