Zip-Zap Those Metaphors Away — Let’s Get Inventive

There are times as writers when we can’t help but use a metaphor to describe an image, but if we can, we should always go back over the scene and see if there’s a better way to “show” our reader, without their use. Let me draw the following scene for you, where a metaphor is used in the first line, and then we’re going to zip-zap it away.

Ana, a young woman, is visiting her friend in the countryside.  Ana has saddled up a horse from the stables, and is ready for a ride.

  • Riding a horse was like riding a bike, Ana thought, lifting her face to the sun.  Once in the saddle, she felt like it had been only a day instead of years since the last time.  She knew she’d pay the price the next day, but she enjoyed the feeling of freedom she always felt when riding.  The chestnut mare, Mandy, was gentle but spunky.

In this above scene, the paragraph’s meaning is quite clear because of the metaphor.  Riding a horse is like riding a bike. And for Ana, it’s also been years since she felt that freedom. But as writers we need to extend these kinds of scenes, going past the obvious and bringing our reader along on the journey.  Ana may be going for a ride, but there’s so much more we can say.  I’m not sure about you, but there’s a definite picture forming in my mind of the scene, but the example above isn’t quite cementing it.  See what you think of the rewrite in the following example, and if the picture now becomes more clear.

  • Lifting her face to the sun, Ana breathed in the fresh country air as it blew across the rolling green fields.  It had been years since she’d last been atop a horse, but no matter the length of time, the moment she’d set her booted foot in the silver stirrup and swung up, those years had melted away.  Even the smooth leather reins in her hands, and the gentle tug as the chestnut mare whinnied for release, made her itch to move, to give into the freedom of the ride.

In the rewrite, the metaphor is gone, and the picture I visualized has been brought to life.  I hope as you read the second example, that you too felt the metaphor wasn’t needed.  So if you can, take the time to be inventive and to visualize what you want to write, and then deliver it.  Search for those metaphors, and cut them out.  I’m sure your readers will thank you for it.

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6 thoughts on “Zip-Zap Those Metaphors Away — Let’s Get Inventive

  1. So true. Images work so much better and stronger when something is not “like” something, but “is” something. Instead of the sunset being LIKE a red flower covered in dust, the sunset IS a red flower cover in dust. Brain neurons cozy up in new ways triggering something, which wakens the reader’s third eye.

    1. Dear Rowen, you have highlighted my exact beef with this post. The example used to point out how “metaphors don’t cement the picture in the mind” (riding a horse was like riding a bike…) is really not a metaphor at all. It’s a simile. In your example, Rowen, you ARE using a metaphor. Some may label me a pedant for making the distinction, but I think it’s important, nevertheless. However, we all can agree that both similes and metaphors are types of analogies, which are great tools to use in writing. They provide a frame of reference for the reader when you want to communicate something to them. Like all things, they can be overdone or done poorly (or both), but I think it’s bad advice – and maybe even counter-intuitive! – to tell writers to cut them out of their work.

  2. Love your bite-sized advice today Joanne – you’re awesome! The second example was more visual than the first (even though the first wasn’t bad ), and I enjoyed reading both!

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