Although not easy to come up with, I love metaphors. I guess that’s partly what makes them so appealing. That, and the fact you don’t need to use many in your writing for them to have an impact.
Unlike similes that make a direct comparison with something else using ‘like’ or ‘as’ (you can read a whole other blog dedicated to similes here), a metaphor turns one thing into something else. It creates a direct comparison that is so contrasting you can’t help but imagine it.
I think the best way to explain metaphors is by looking at examples.
“August is the Sun. Me and Mom and Dad are planets orbiting the Sun.” R.J. Palacio, Wonder.
I absolutely love this one. If you’ve read Wonder, you’ll know that August is a child with a severe facial disfigurement who has spent his whole life having operations to try to correct it, or to at least allow him to live a normal life. For his older sister Via, this has meant getting on with things, not needing or leaning on her parents for anything, realising August is the one who requires the attention and who takes up all her parents’ energy and time.
This quote is her way of showing us how important August is to their family, how he is the centre of their universe, the centre of attention. They all orbit around August because they have no choice, that’s just the way it is.
“His mind was a kaleidoscope of shock, pain and disappointment.” N.H Senzai. Shooting Kabul.
You have to understand what a kaleidoscope is to understand this one. But it’s a simple tool, or toy, that looks like a small telescope and refracts light as you twist and turn the viewer. The way the shapes change and blend into one another is not dissimilar to a mind where thoughts are swirling. This comparison turns the abstract – shock, pain and disappointment – into something more tangible.
“The hurricane is a never-ending roller coaster.” Jewell Parker Rhodes. Ninth Ward.
The ups and downs, twists and turns. The stomach-dropping moments. It’s not difficult to imagine a hurricane as a never-ending roller coaster. The never-ending part is significant because whereas a roller coaster always seems to be over too soon, a hurricane can go on and on in a way that would make you wonder whether that ride might never end.
How about having a go at putting together some metaphors yourself?
Here are a few simple sentences for you. Think about the subject of each of these sentences and see if you can make a direct comparison with something else. There are some hints and tips to go alongside them that you might find useful.
The sandcastle is tall (think what else might be tall – A giraffe? A skyscraper?)
Children splash in the sea (what do happy children splashing about remind you of?)
Turtles swim around the reef (think about how the turtles swim)
The rocks were sharp (what else is sharp?)
The path was winding (what does something that winds, twists or turns remind you of?)
The dark clouds in the sky (are they menacing, or evil-looking?)
How did you do?