Metaphors, Mixed Metaphors, and Similes
You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
Regardless of which of these figures of speech an author uses, there are a couple rules to remember. First, use them sparingly. I edited a book once where the author used similes in every other paragraph. This became old quickly, and it subtracted from the specialness of the similes.
Metaphors — “A metaphor is a figure of speech where a word or phrase is applied to an object or action that it does not literally represent.” (Dictionary.com). It constructs an analogy between two things or ideas that uses a metaphorical word in place of some other word.
Her eyes were the sea on a cloudy day.
Her love was a solid rock.
Shelby’s life was a vegetable stew.
When creating metaphors the author must choose verbs that express the feeling of what they’re trying to describe or what the character is going through. A well-written metaphor is more active than an analogy, because it declares two things are the same, whereas analogy implies a difference.
As an editor, it is important to make sure the metaphors are appropriate for the setting, time-period, and genre in which the book is written. For example: if the book is a historical, you couldn’t use a metaphor like this: his brain was a lost space ship.
Metaphors do not use the words “like” or “as”. If those words are present the phrase is a simile.
- Mixed Metaphors — A mixed metaphor uses two or more metaphors that are incompatible or illogical when combined. It leaps from one association to a second that is inconsistent with the first.
- Her house was an oasis of unmitigated chaos.
- Her uncle was a rock who melted into a pile of quicksand every time she looked at him.
- She could cut the tension with a machete made of red ribbon.
A well-placed mixed metaphor can
enhance a description in a way that goes beyond the narrative itself. Again, use sparingly.
2. Similes — A simile is a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared and usually uses the words “like” or “as”.
Examples of commonly-known similes:
- Tight as a drum.
- Cold as ice.
- Proud as a peacock.
- Ugly as sin.
The thing to remember about similes is that they are so widely used, many are now clichés. I encourage you to think of exciting, new ones in order to keep your work fresh and alive.
Remember, a few well-placed metaphors, mixed metaphors and similes will show your story even deeper than before.