We’re talking about metaphors this month; what they are, how to write good ones and how they can enrich your writing.
So, what’s a metaphor?
A metaphor is a tool writers can use to paint a picture with their words. When you use a metaphor, you describe an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true; instead, you describe your object or action as if it was something else.
If I write “I feel sad today”, you’ll understand. Ok, I’m sad. 🙁 But, if I write “my sadness is an elephant sitting on my chest”, that’s a metaphor. You see, the sadness isn’t literally sitting on my chest me, but when I say it is, you can feel how heavy it weighs on me, can’t you? So now you, as my reader, feel what I feel.
That’s the power of a metaphor!
Let’s look at some more examples.
I could write, “Everyone was happy to see you.” And I’d mean it too – you’re awesome! But if I write, “When you walked in, the room lit up!” it tells you so much more. You might imagine lightbulbs turning on, or a bright light flooding the room just because you walked into it. Even though it means the same thing, it gives the sentence a whole new meaning.
Here is a great example from Matilda by Roald Dahl:
“The parents looked upon Matilda in particular as nothing more than a scab. A scab is something you have to put up with until the time comes when you pick it off and flick it away.”
Ouch! Poor Matilda. Though he could have just written, “Matilda’s parents didn’t like her and wanted to get rid of her”, how much better is describing her as a scab?
Metaphors in Stars
We humans have always had a fascination with the stars. We have learned to read them and navigate by them. We see shapes in them and have told stories about them for thousands of years. We can see them, but we can never touch them; hold them. So, they are a mystery to us. And I think that’s why some of the most powerful metaphors are about stars. Let’s look at a few:
‘It’s written in the stars.” – people use this to describe a feeling of destiny or fate – that something was meant to happen. The stars are as old as time, and if something was written there for as long as there have been stars, it was meant to happen. Imagine that – isn’t is a beautiful idea?
‘My favourite singer is a star!’
Literal stars, the ones in the night sky, shine brightly. Stars are far out of reach. When you describe your favourite celebrity as a ‘star’, you conjure up an image of something that you see up high, something that shines brightly, something out of your reach. It is a way of showing how much you admire them without having to say, “I admire them so much!”.
A great metaphor is one thing, but a great story is told with meaningful metaphors.
What do I mean by that?
Let’s say I’m writing a story about a girl who writes comic books. One day, she’s walking to the comic book store when she sees a bird trapped under a heavy crate. She heaves the crate off and sets the bird free!
Now, I could write that she used “elephant strength to lift the crate”, which would create a powerful image for your reader. Elephants are super strong! But we already know that this girl loves comic books. A better metaphor, a meaningful metaphor, would be “She used Superman strength to lift the crate, freeing the bird.”
By using parts of your story to write meaningful metaphors, your readers won’t be pulled out of the story with strange images that don’t quite fit.
Click here to see this month’s story contest!