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.

Get Published: The Nuts and Bolts of Good English, and How to Impress a Publisher (1)

Not all writers write good grammar. That's a fact. It's no big deal. Well, mostly... Read More

Got an Idea? Turn it into a Novel in Thirty Days or Less!

People can't believe I did it, but I did. I wrote my first novel, The... Read More

How to Relax Your Writing

Q. My writing sounds stiff and stilted. Help!A. Memories of high school and college papers... Read More

How To Co-Publish For Profits!

The Benefits of Co-Publishing There are a number of publishers, printers, and mail order dealers... Read More

Writers Helping Writers - A Noble Legacy

It is satisfying to be a part of such a noble tradition and to know... Read More

Why Every Freelancer Should Have A Web Site

"Do I send samples, a media kit, or just the query, postcard and/or sales letter?"... Read More

Three 30 Day Journaling Ideas

Here are 3 journaling or diary ideas that can contribute to, and enhance your life.... Read More

The Magic of Layout in Your Story

"The Magic of Layout..."???Okay... "magic" might seem a bit over the top when you first... Read More

Write Again! - The Art Of The Written Letter

Remember the days when we wrote with pen and paper? We took time and thought... Read More

Turning Your Journal Into An Idea Bank

A few magazines refer to their written idea sources in assigning articles to reliable, experienced... Read More

Become the Writer You Always Dreamed of Being

So you want to be a writer, except you don't know where to begin. Heck... Read More

Writing as a Gift

What am I supposed to give Anthony as a wedding gift? I asked Kristin, my... Read More

English Grammar ? Seven Outdated Rules You Can Ignore

No matter what your fifth-grade English teacher says, some grammar "rules" no longer apply. The... Read More

A Single Technique

Writing is hard work, and like all hard work, one tries to avoid it if... Read More

Autobiography: Installment No.3

ESSAY 3Writing an autobiography involves a matching up of a specific plot-structure with a set... Read More

Business Writing: 10 Great Authors

Great business writers combine narrative skills with sound judgment to create classics that help both... Read More

Mumblings

The self-indulgent writer listens only to the mumblings of sycophants, toadies, and flatterers, thus failing... Read More

Dont Get Burned: Evaluating Script Writing Contests

Hundreds of writing contests tempt screenwriters with the lure of prize money, instant film industry... Read More

Have You Tested Your Theme Against Your Plot?

Creative Writing Tips ?How we usually begin the preparation stage in the writing process is?We... Read More

Memoir Writing Help, Memoir Writing Ideas

You might not need any memoir writing help, per se, as you know your past... Read More

You Dont Need Inspiration!

Or do you?Writers write. You shouldn't wait around for inspiration to come. But sometimes, there... Read More

A Few Brief Tips to Deal with Writing Rejection

What to do when you get rejected.You've just finished your book, sent out query letters... Read More

A Quick Guide to ISBNs for Self-Publishers

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It is a code assigned to every published... Read More

Becoming a Writer

The urge to write fiction seems God given for some, a learned skill for others.One... Read More

Five Keys To A Successful Query Letter

Do you know what a query letter is? If so, you are of a rare... Read More

Leveraging Your Writing

A frequent conversation I have with my writing clients is how to best utilize their... Read More

Is The Theme Reinforced In The Ending?

Creative Writing Tips ?By now you should have an idea that your theme has to... Read More

Ten Tips to Help You Finish Writing Your Novel

1. Set aside a time to write and keep it sacred.Make this a time when... Read More

Do You Know What A Plot Is?

Creative Writing Tips ?What a plot is and what a story is can be sometimes... Read More

Tips For Better Writing

It is certainly true that we don't get a second chance to make a first... Read More

The Writers Identity: Exploring the Writer Within

Les Edgerton writes in his book, Finding Your Voice, that the best way to find... Read More

Whats in a Name? Giving Birth to your Characters

So you've got your plot outlined, a title lined up and the research is done.... Read More

Prolific Writers

Prolific authors write; they don't just dream about it. A good example is Georges Simenon... Read More

Does Your Plot Suit Your Characters And Vice-Versa?

Creative Writing Tips ?When an idea comes to us for a short story, we either... Read More

COULD YOU (not) REPEAT THAT PLEASE?

I recently read a book where everything was akimbo. Arms were akimbo, legs were akimbo.... Read More

Does Each Element of Your Story Further The Theme?

Creative Writing Tips ?Whichever theme you choose, all the elements, which make up your story,... Read More

From Book Notes to Book Reports

Writing papers and book reports has long been the bane of high school and college... Read More

Why Manners Maketh the Freelance Writer

Lately I've been noticing an odd trend amongst the freelance writers who contact us every... Read More

The Myths of Writing: Have You Bought Into These?

There is an image most people carry of the artist (think Van Gough's self-portrait, the... Read More

A Simple Contest with a Strong Message: Wake Up Your Writing Spirit

The Blogfest 2005 Writing Contest has only been running for two weeks and already the... Read More

Writing Good Dialogue.

There's nothing that kills a scene like hackneyed dialogue. Just stop and think about the... Read More

Kick-Start your Juices

Listen, consider this scenario.You have a deadline to honour. Time is pressing, tighter and tighter.... Read More

Is Your Title Compelling?

Short Story Writing Tips:Your title is your selling tool. It's the first thing readers will... Read More

How to Outline your Book and Chapters with Mindmapping

Mindmapping is better than linear outlining because authors can use flexible thinking and relativity in... Read More

A Perfect Day for Writers

In one of the exercises in my "Getting Started as a Freelance Writer" workshop, I... Read More

Are You Feeling Dash-ing? Using Punctuation for Effect and Influence

The dash--that curious mark of punctuation people use in their email and letters. Not the... Read More

Learning to Question Your Elephant Child: Who, What, Where, When and Why

Having problems writing? I don't know why. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll writes up... Read More

Documenting Everything: Your Journal is Your Logbook

Sailors had it for years. Great explorers had it as well. If you go on... Read More

Top Seven Ways to Select a Book Topic That Sells

Authors need to write their book according to their target audiences' needs and wants. You... Read More

Create A Dream Diary

How many times have you forced yourself to sit in front of a computer and... Read More