Using Metaphor Effectively


We've all heard a politician on their soapbox, pushing for some policy change or cleaning up after a scandal. Some will cut out a sharp point, while others leave the audience in bewilderment. You can often thank - or blame - the use of metaphor for the outcome of a speech.

Most often, the problem comes down to either poorly chosen metaphors, or "mixed" metaphors. A mixed metaphor is one in which half of the statement refers to something metaphorically that doesn't match the other half. Here's a hilarious example by cartoon superstar Homer Simpson:

-----"These people are the glue that holds together the gears of our society."-----

The metaphors "glue" and "holds together" aren't very appropriate when imagining gears. Gears are used in situations where there is movement, while glue is used to prevent movement. A sentence that puts these completely incompatible metaphors together is funny because it is perfectly ineffective but easily visualized.

Had Homer said "...the glue that holds together the pieces of society", it would've been an effective metaphor and statement, but not at all funny. This is because "glue", "holds together" and "pieces" are all metaphors belonging to the same metaphor system, one that, in this case, suggests that society is a solid construct of many parts.

But had Homer used half of the metaphors from "glue" and the other half from, say, "chemistry", many listeners would not have found humor at all, having too little knowledge from chemistry to find the metaphors reachable. If you want people to find what you are pointing to in a metaphor, make sure it's reachable to them.

Take great care in selecting every metaphor you are using in a sentence, paragraph or entire work. Do the metaphors you use work well together? Do they create an image in the reader's mind that is consistent and easily visualized? Will most readers identify with the metaphor systems you refer to?

Points to remember when building effective metaphors:

1) Make your metaphors consistent.
2) Make sure your metaphor is easy to visualize.
3) Make sure your metaphor is reachable.

The metaphor has been held in high regard by many cultures for thousands of years. Its use as a tool in the right hands can build imagery that will stand the test of time. In the wrong hands, the metaphor will make one's words fall flat, becoming soon forgotten. Build your metaphors to last - craft them carefully, deliberately and reachably.

John D. Casnig is a writer and publisher in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. His current focus is on the metaphor and its use as a teaching and learning tool. His online arts magazine, Jaywalker Magazine of the Arts, features some of his work, as well as works from other people in his region.


MORE RESOURCES:
RELATED ARTICLES
Make Your Readers Cry
You know, I really hate it when someone catches me crying over a book.I surreptitiously dab at the corners of my eyes with a finger.
Writers Block is No Longer a Problem
"If you're like me, than I'm sure you're pretty familiar with the well-known writer's block.From time to time, when you have to start writing something, be it an article, an ebook, or just a letter, there is that moment when you just stare at the blank sheet of paper (or at the vibrant colors of your monitor) and nothing seems to come out from your mind.
5 Effective Web Writing Tips
Writing for the web is very different from writing for the print medium. Writing for the web requires some special abilities.
Four Easy Ways to Get a Book Written (Especially If You Dont Like to Write)
Becoming an author is probably a lot easier than you think. It's time to get that book out of your head and onto the printed page.
How to Write Articles, Reports, and Books Quickly
Do you have trouble getting your thoughts and ideas down into an article? Do you find it difficult to put 'pen to paper' to get your book started? Do you sit facing a blank screen struggling to find the words to write? If so, here are some tips and strategies you can use to get your material written quickly.1.
Dreading the Writing Assignment? Outlines to the Rescue
Writing technical articles is a challenge. There you sit, surrounded by reams of research, notes and interviews.
Ten Tips to Help You Finish Writing Your Novel
1. Set aside a time to write and keep it sacred.
Permission NOT To Write
Quite a few years ago, I enrolled in a Degree in Criminal Justice. My main reason for doing so was my interest in reading and writing crime and mystery fiction.
In Your Own Words
More Tips For New Writers (Part I)Explain in your own wordsFamiliar phrase? Yes, we have all heard it many times in many different situations. This little phrase is used to convey subtly different meanings depending upon the circumstances in which it is used.
Write Again! - The Art Of The Written Letter
Remember the days when we wrote with pen and paper? We took time and thought into each note written. There wasn't email, text messaging, cell phones, or instant messaging.
The Magic of Layout in Your Story
"The Magic of Layout..
Formats for Writing Life Narratives
Q and A.Best choice when subject is very verbal or there are two or more people beinginterviewed or taped at the same time.
Should You Write a Book?
One morning, you open your inbox and find several e-mails that will boost your business. There is an invitation to speak at a local group comprised of your best prospects.
Building a Character Wall
For any great novelist, defining your cast of intriguing characters is the key to the success of your story. So how do you maintain the image of your characters―both their physical attributes and their personality? It's easy! Build a Character Wall?paper by paper.
Taking the Free Out of Freelance Writing
When you run an online agency for freelance writers, editors and proofreaders you'd think the biggest problem would be attracting employers who are willing to pay a decent hourly rate for freelance writing. You'd be wrong.
When Getting Stuck Goes Amuck
Many of us have always wanted to write. We have all gotten writer's block.
Seven Compelling Reasons to Get Your Name on a Book Cover
Have you ever considered writing a book? If so, maybe you've already established firmly in mind your exact purpose for becoming an author. Your reasons may match one or more of those below.
Learn to Write Like a Pro
Many writers write for the experience. Others dream of having a number one best seller.
When I Grow Up
I've just come back to work after nine glorious, sun-drenched days at home. This year, vacation was the week of July 4th.
Strategies For Finding Topics To Write About
What possibly could I have to write about? I never was good at it anyway. It doesn't matter how hard I try, I just sit and stare and stare at a blank screen.

Home | Articles Site Map