Writing Metaphors that Matter

Writing figurative language may seem like an easy feat, but a poorly constructed simile, idiom or hyperbole can destroy your writing. Crafting the ideal comparison takes thought and patience, and metaphors are no different. The easy way is to jot down the first metaphor that comes to mind, but I’ve never known poetry to be easy. If you avoid clichés and surprise your audience with your metaphors, though, you’ll create a stronger, more dramatic piece of writing.

A metaphor is one of the strongest forms of figurative language, and as such, it deserves a strong idea, which clichés often lack. A cliché is a phrase so common that it no longer holds meaning. Her voice was music to my ears. He is a black sheep. The homework was a breeze. None of these comparisons mean anything. Despite the strength “to be” verbs carry, all of it is lost when you use a cliché. Clichés are tempting because they’re often readily available in our minds and require little active thinking. However, you’ll lose vital poetry real estate if you use one in your piece. Poetry is succinct, and it seems that in this postmodern era, a poem says the most it can with as few words as possible. Don’t give up space for phrases that mean nothing.

You’ve avoided the clichés, but now you need to fill that space. Figurative language is a key element to poetry and you should use it to surprise your audience. The strongest metaphors surprise readers by comparing two items the audience doesn’t expect to have anything in common. When making these surprising connections, you may have to elaborate slightly so the audience follows, but trust your readers – they’ll be able to follow along. In the poem “Casual,” I wrote “Your fingers on my back/are condensation/on glass…” There’s no need to explain this metaphor further because the idea of condensation elicits enough of an idea in the mind of the audience; the audience knows that the described touch is light and tingly like dripping water.

If you want to practice writing powerful metaphors, find a random word generator online. Write down a list of 5 to 10 pairs of random words, and find the similarities between them. Create a metaphor for each pairing. Then choose which metaphor you believe is the strongest, and incorporate it into a poem. With some patience and a little creative thinking, you’ll write metaphors that strengthen your poetry. Happy writing!

Shared by Alicia Zuberbier, author of many little things.