Writing Tip #48

Make metaphors. Or at least try to. When I first started writing this blog — way, way back in the spring of 2010 — I made a startling (not really) admission: Metaphors don’t come easily to me. I’ll know, in vague terms, the comparison I want to make, but then can’t seem to get it just right. I’ll try, and try, and try, and then… nothing. But I don’t let it get me down. My philosophy with metaphors and similes and even descriptive passages in general is: If I’m trying too hard, then it wasn’t meant to be. Move on.

But that doesn’t mean that writers shouldn’t strive to create interesting metaphors, which are a wonderfully colorful and creative writing tool. As I mentioned earlier this week, I’m reading a debut novel by Amy Waldman called The Submission and I am blown away by her use of metaphors and similes, such as:

He pushed unrealized potential before him like a baby carriage.

So vivid an image I almost fell over.

The Submission is one of those books that will probably take me forever to finish reading (I’m a slow reader to begin with), as I’m constantly stopping to appreciate the author’s use of language and figurative comparisons. And, to boot, the story rocks too.

Why should you use metaphors? Certainly not to impress or show off. Use them to make your language more powerful, more entertaining. It’s like that old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Think of a metaphor, or a simile, as a picture that paints an instant, vivid image that the reader recognizes.

Finding the right metaphor is simply a matter of playing with language — which, for me, is one of the most exciting parts of being a writer — to see what works. But if you find you’re having trouble finding the perfect figurative comparison, and it’s stressing you out, just forget about it for now and continue writing. Maybe that metaphor will come to you later. Maybe not. But during a first draft, it’s the story that matters — a compelling story with relatable, interesting characters.

In fact, most of my metaphors come to me during the editing stage, when the story is already on paper, and I’m in a more relaxed state of mind. But even then, if I can’t seem to come up something, I move on. Some things are fine just the way they are.

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2 thoughts on “Writing Tip #48

  1. Metaphors either come to me or they don’t, as I’m writing — which is to say if they do, I use them, and otherwise I generally don’t think of them while I’m editing…. but your post makes me think twice, and I’ll add it to my “think about” list for my next draft! (p.s. just read an excerpt fro THE SUBMISSION — definitely on my to read list!)

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