Metaphors, Mixed Metaphors, and Similes 

By Jeanne Marie Leach 

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

                                    —Eleanore Roosevelt

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.

Examples:

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.

  1.  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.

Examples:

  • 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.

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