This guest post is by one of our regulars, Sara Steeves. A writer, dreamer, and wild horse chaser from Canada. She blogs at To Chase a Wild Horse, and can also be found on Twitter (@Missaralee).

Metaphor is a speeding train, pulling readers down the tracks of your story.

Are you making full use of the power of metaphor in your writing? Or are you leaning on simile?

Magic

Photo by Cornelia Kopp

Metaphor Cements Connections

When we use metaphor, we make one element incarnate in another. The tie between the two becomes direct and visceral.

For example, to say the grime and neon lights of the metropolis are the hot blood in the veins of its citizens is to make an unequivocal declaration of how deeply and inextricably tied the people are to their city.

When we use simile, on the other hand, we only compare one element to another, and while simile is a useful tool, it can lack punch.

For example, simile goes down easy like a glass of iced tea, but it’s forgettable like the canned lines in a greeting card.

When you use metaphor, the effect can be profound, shocking,  provide a much needed injection of humor.

Metaphor is a Dangerous

Metaphor is anything but safe.

Simile, on the other hand, gives you an out. You don’t have to commit to the comparison you’re making. The reader can feel the hesitance and the image falls flat.

For example, which passage is more chilling?

Metaphor: Betrayal carved her initials into my heart, searing the flesh and adding a faint sizzle to its skipping beat.

Simile: Betrayal was like a knife, carving her initials into my heart, searing the flesh and adding a faint sizzle to its skipping beat.

Where Can You Use Metaphor?

Everywhere!

But here are a few specific ideas:

You can use metaphor in narrative descriptions.

Lily danced under the party lanterns, her belly a half-moon wrapped in antique-lace.

You can use metaphor in dialogue.

(Although your characters may end up sounding a little over dramatic, I get along just fine speaking this way…usually.)

“”I’m just a lost puppy looking for a monogrammed water dish and a fluffy bed to call my own,” said Bert, pleading with Rita to accept his proposals.

Use it in your short stories.

By combining elements from the backstory of your character, you can use metaphor to fast track character development in fewer words.

The summer breeze swelled the sails of Ambrose’s soul, whispering of long ago days spent at sea.

Which do you prefer? Metaphor or simile? Why?

PRACTICE

You may think metaphor isn’t part of your writing voice, but I dare you to take metaphor for a test drive today.

Take a project you’ve been working on and spend fifteen minutes replacing all the similes and safe comparisons with metaphors. When you’re done, you can post your favourite replacements in the comments section along with the original text.

You may just find metaphor is just the spark you needed to set your prose ablaze.

Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).