The writer has many best friends. Among them there is confidence, imagination, the internet, the library, a dictionary and so many more I could probably justify starting a series on the subject.
Today, the best friend I want to introduce is… Metaphors! I use metaphors like there is no tomorrow. I use them in my posts, I use them in my novel and I use them in real life, sometimes bringing my friends to cock an eyebrow or snort at the surprising comparison I may have set up between inspiration and a tide that rises and falls.
The fact remains – metaphors are a powerful tool for writers. And because one of my NY resolutions is giving more in my blog, here are my 6 secrets to becoming a Metaphor Master! If you don’t know, here’s a useful link explaining what a metaphor is.
Paint a vivid picture
That is rule No. 1 and the essence of a metaphor: it paints a picture so vivid it stays with the reader longer than any other lengthy description. The popular idiom “a picture is worth a thousand words” sometimes puts us writers in a tricky position – we rely on those thousand words, not on a picture – so how exactly are we suppose to emulate this feeling? We use metaphors. In fact, here’s a modified version: “a metaphor is worth a thousand words”.
Make unlikely comparisons
Unless you have just come from an intergalactic planet and this is the first post you are reading from Earth (in which case, I’m flattered!) you already know that “his eyes were blue like the ocean” is not only a boring, overused cliché but also an obvious comparison. “His eyes were the colour of thin ice, translucent and dangerous”. Isn’t that better? Why? Because the comparison is unexpected and double, it gives us information on both the colour and the feeling conveyed.
Don’t be afraid to get personal
If a rose to you smells like heaven, it may remind your character of his father’s funeral and henceforth, smell like the cemetery. Be bold when you use such metaphors, if you have previously set the scene, the reader will understand. Similarly, ‘Hey Jude’ might have no particular meaning to your readers but if it was playing on the radio when your character last saw their child, you can use this imagery to instantly create the sense of loss and desperation your character felt at that time.
Use all four senses
Building on No. 3, we have four senses and every day, we engage all four. We wake up to the sound of rain trickling down the window (can you tell I live in England?), we enjoy the smell of roasted morning coffee, we feel the steaming warm cup in our hands and drink it while gazing at the neighbour’s kid jumping rope in their backyard.
Just like that, we should explore all four senses in our metaphors. Exploit the smell of fishing nets, tell us about the rugged hands of your grandfather, think about the noise the wind makes, or the gravel, or the fallen leaves, or whatever you want it to be.
Make the complex simple and the simple convincing
Some concepts are difficult to understand, let along convey. Let’s call our character Lea (No, I’m not a Star Wars fan and no, this isn’t said in a sarcastic way). Presume Lea has led a difficult life. Dysfunctional relationships, sense of failure, lack of motivation, you get the picture. She has spent years trying to figure out what – if anything – is holding her back, to no avail. Then one day, after a long journey of self-discovery, she realises it has been her mother all along. Her controlling, cold-hearted, demanding mother.
How does she feel then? How do you convey the feeling? Here’s my take: “Lea felt as though someone had just parted the blinds, letting in a shaft of light. And in that light, she suddenly saw a thick cloud of dust twirling in the air. The cloud had always been there but she could never see it.” It would need a bit of tweaking and improving but you get the idea.
Know when to call it a day
More often than you’d think, metaphors fall apart. You have to recognise when you’ve gone too far and when it’s time to just scrap the whole sequence and start from scratch. Always ask yourself: does this still make sense? If you hesitate, the answer is most likely no, it no longer does. Hit that backspace button and repeat until satisfied.