How to Create Great Metaphors
Exercises to Enliven Your Writing
A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn't literally true but helps explain an idea or make a comparison. A simile compares two things that share a common feature. The words "as" and "like" are used to compare the two things.
The Basics About Metaphors
- A metaphor states that one thing is another thing.
- A metaphor equates two things as one not because they are the same, but for the sake of comparison or symbolism.
- If you take a metaphor literally, it probably sounds very strange. Ask yourself, "Are there actually any sheep, black or otherwise, in your family?"
- Metaphors are used in poetry, literature, and anytime someone wants to add some color to their language.
- Love is a battlefield.
- Bob is a couch potato.
- Baby, you're a firework.
- I am titanium.
Why Use Them?
Metaphors can make your words come to life. Often, you can use a metaphor to make your subject more relatable to the reader or to make a complex thought easier to understand. They can also be a tremendous help when you want to enhance your writing with imagery. As a common figure of speech, metaphors turn up everywhere from novels and films to presidential speeches and even popular music. When they're especially good, they're hard to miss.
Famous Metaphors by Famous People
"You ain't nothin' but a hound dog, cryin' all the time." Elvis Presley
"All the world's a stage, and all the man and women merely players." William Shakespeare
"A good conscience is a continual Christmas." Benjamin Franklin
This exercise, adapted from one by Linnea Johnson in her book The Practice of Poetry, is a good starting place if you want to practice writing metaphors. Though actually for poets, it's helpful for anyone who wants to focus on figurative language. Even if none of these exact metaphors and similes show up in your writing, your brain will be more likely to come up with them naturally after warming up with the exercise. (Feel free to consult these examples of metaphor before doing the exercise.)
To get the most out of the exercise, don't worry about coming up with something perfect. Just write. The idea is to get your subconscious to make connections in a new, more creative way. Finish each phrase below with whatever metaphor or simile immediately comes to mind.
- Blue paint spilled on the road like___________________________.
- Canceled checks in the abandoned subway carseemed___________________________.
- A spider under the rug is like___________________________.
- Graffiti on the abandoned building like___________________________.
- Nothing was the same, now that it was___________________________.
- The dice rolled out of the cup toward Veronicalike___________________________.
- A child in _________________ is like a _______________ in_____________________.
- _________________is like muscles stretched taut over bone.
- The fog plumed through gunshot holes in the car windows like ___________________________.
- She held her life in her own hands as if it were___________________________.
- Lacey poured coffee down her throat as if ___________________________.
- If I should wake before I die,___________________________.
- The security guard walks the lobby as if___________________________.
- The library books left in the rain like___________________________.
- Music in the hallway like___________________________.