What Are the Best Tips for Writing a Metaphor?

Kaci Lane Hindman

A metaphor is a rhetorical device used to compare two objects. When writing a metaphor, it is often best if the writer keeps the connection simple; a metaphor probably won't be of much value if the reader doesn't understand it. They should also be original, giving a new take on the ideas being connected. It can help to practice writing metaphors, thinking about connecting senses to experiences.

"Love is a rose with thorns" is a common metaphor for love.
"Love is a rose with thorns" is a common metaphor for love.

Metaphors are often mistaken as being the same as similes, but this is only half true. All similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes. A simile is a metaphor that uses the word "like" or "as" when making a comparison. In this way, a simile follows a formula to make an analogy, whereas a metaphor can vary more in sentence structure.

"Life is like a box of chocolates" is a metaphor.
"Life is like a box of chocolates" is a metaphor.

The most important tip for writing a metaphor is to keep the connection simple. Make sure to use nouns with which the reader can identify. A reader should already know the words in comparison or contrast so that he or she can focus on the connection. Common language also ensures that the reader can clearly visualize the metaphor.

Metaphors vary in conventions for achieving an analogy, but all have two main parts: the tenor and the vehicle. The tenor is the main subject in the sentence. The vehicle is the thought that forms when all the words are put together, thus the point of comparison. These two parts are connected by a verb.

In most cases, metaphors are more interesting when they are original ideas. For example, "tough as steel" has become cliché because this phrase is overused and unoriginal. Readers tend to glance over cliché metaphors, since their familiarity causes no need to stop and make the connection. An unexpected comparison, while using a common topic of comparison, would work better, such as "tough as stale bread."

A good exercise for writing a metaphor is to first write out the five senses: taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell. Then, think of different sensory experiences for various objects. Inanimate objects naturally relate to animate objects by taking on sensory feelings. This is one of the most common uses for writing metaphors.

Sometimes writers like to sustain a metaphor throughout an entire story. If a metaphor carries on throughout the full text, it is known as an allegory. Allegories are most commonly used in fiction writing. Many nursery rhymes and children’s stories are allegories that give life-like characteristics to nonliving objects. Others give human characteristics to animals.

Writers of all literary forms from poetry to feature articles often use metaphors to spice up their writing and better communicate an idea to their readers. This type of rhetoric can be traced back to classic texts such as the Bible and Shakespeare's plays. Writing a metaphor helps authors make everyday language creative.

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