How Well Do You Use Metaphor?

I talked the other day about the use of metaphor adding richness and texture to your language. The strongest metaphors illuminate complex or abstract concepts by translating them into striking images that resonate with readers.

They stand out.

It was Aristotle who said that mastering metaphors is a “sign of genius.” When you create metaphors that are clear, concise, vivid and relatable your readers will do more than understand your meaning … they’ll experience the thrill of discovery.

Consider these examples:

    * “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”
      ~ Truman Capote

    * “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”
      ~ Plutarch

To understand how to use them, if you were to ask yourself what love smells like, what answers might you come up with?

The aroma of chicken roasting in your grandmother’s oven? Freshly cut roses? Your wife’s favorite perfume?

All these things can represent love in a metaphor, because of people’s mental associations with the underlying question. But, of course, love doesn’t actually have an aroma.

Avoid Cliches
Sometimes writers select an image that, while powerful, actually contradicts the underlying message. It’s possible to overwork a metaphor. Stale, overused metaphors don’t resonate with readers. Instead, they become cliches. Select images not merely because they’re powerful, but because they’re apt. Be careful of cliches.

Consider these:
He’s like a bull in a china shop … or
Always go after the low-hanging fruit.

Powerful images … used far too much.

Assess your work using this standard of excellence: Is it clear, concise, tangible, vivid and relatable?

“That horse’s ass would beat the sun awake with a stick, if he could.”

“Townies tended to have multiple tattoos, pierced body parts and hair the various colors of Jell-O.”

The first is a line from my novel Blood Lake (a Readers’ Favorite Bronze Medal Winner), and I don’t think you need the rest of the character description to have a sense of what Luther was like. The second comes from my short story Zebulon (a Readers’ Favorite Silver Medal Winner).

Both of them tell us a lot about the characters. When your metaphors are strong, you’ll forge intimate relationships with your readers. The kind marked by shared discovery and reflection.

What writer among us doesn’t want that?


My books have all garnered some terrific reviews, and you can see the ones I have available by using the Amazon link below. Look for them. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now amazon

You’re invited to visit my web site, BROKEN GLASS, or
like my Book of Face page. You can find me on Goodreads, or follow some of my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.


Visit my web site to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” by The Authors Show.


Check out my DEAD END STREET review


I plan to attend the next Rochester Writers’ Fall Conference at Oakland University on Saturday, October 21, 2017.


Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

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9 Responses to “How Well Do You Use Metaphor?”

  1. How Well Do You Use Metaphor? | Melissa York Says:

    […] Source: How Well Do You Use Metaphor? […]

    Liked by 1 person

  2. patriciaruthsusan Says:

    Good informative post, Ron. Thanks for sharing. 🙂 — Suzanne

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Don Massenzio Says:

    Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Here is a helpful post from the Painting with Light blog on the use of metaphors.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mary Hackstock Says:

    Nice post Ron. Love

    Sent from my iSlate


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Barb rebbeck Says:

    In my YA novel, NOLA Gals I use two extended metaphors. Hurricane Katrina becomes a recalcitrant teenage girl and Hurricane Rita becomes her sister. My adult writing group urged me to drop them both as no agent would read beyond them. “Nevertheless, I persisted.” Now I find that when I work in classes, the kids love the metaphors and want to know how to write them themselves. I listen to kids.

    Liked by 1 person

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