Metaphor and Insight

One aspect of descriptive writing is the use of simile and metaphor.

Simile is the “like” description: The child’s laughter was like music to her ears.

Metaphor is the “is” description: He is a volcano. Consequently, people tiptoe around him, fearing an eruption.

While similes are easier to use for most writers, metaphor has a great deal more power. As Sallie McFague beautifully put it, “A metaphor is a word used in an unfamiliar context to give us a new insight; a good metaphor moves us to see our ordinary world in an extraordinary way.”

As you edit your first drafts, try to find those places where you can strengthen your language, imbuing it with power through the use of simile and metaphor. This requires looking at the world as though you’ve never seen it before and describing what you see in new terms, with new references. That copse of trees bordering the lane? An military rank of sentinels, their heads entwined and interlocking, guarding the path below.

Most often, simplicity is key. It isn’t a matter of using a thesaurus, but of seeing the world in new ways, with new images. Typically, with metaphor, a well-known object is compared with a less-well-known object, creating a vivid link and new vision in the reader’s mind. Play with language. Re-imagine your world. Don’t settle for reality.

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