This is probably everyone’s favorite fancy writing tool, but it can be difficult to come up with a good one. The best metaphors are unexpected and apt. They make people say, “I never thought of it that way before, but it’s perfect!” Here are four ways that will hopefully help you find your way to something good.
1. Go to museums. Take walks in new neighborhoods. Listen to new music. Look at fine art—at museums, in books, or online. Read outside your preferred genre. Watch movies. Read poetry. While you do this, collect impressions, emotions, colors, textures, sounds, and smells, and put them in a mental metaphor bank (or write them down, which is probably a safer idea).
2. Think of the most important quality of the thing you want to describe. What else has that quality? Brainstorm a list. Make yourself write down at least seven things, to force yourself to think beyond the obvious. Then pick the one that fits the character, the situation, and the tone of your novel.
For example, there is a minor character in my book who I wanted to describe as totally hot. My first thought was “Greek god” or “Greek statue” but…that’s been done. So instead I focused on defining characteristic (beauty) and the context (minor character; typical teen movie hottie). What I came up with was
- · A fashion model or movie star (too obvious)
- · A sunset (too big)
- · A brand new sports car (too strong an image)
- · A love poem (too artsy)
- · A symphony (lots of people think symphonies are boring)
- · A love song (ooh! This reminds me of boy band love songs and the handsome boys who sing them.)
And so Daniel in Chapter Two has a face like your favorite love song.
3. Another fun metaphor exercise: make a list of random nouns. Pear, boat, padlock, mouse, monsoon, soccer ball. Then pick the first one and ask yourself, “How is a pear like a ____?” and substitute each of the other nouns you’ve picked. Make a list of the ways in which they are alike. For more focus, pick one of your characters, or an important abstract noun like love, or revenge, or guilt, and compare them to your list of random nouns. For even more focus, use important objects or places in your book as your nouns and compare your characters to them.
4. Here’s an exercise that works well for abstract nouns. Holding in your head (or on the page) the thing you want to metaphorize, imagine that it is alive. Make a list of descriptions according to the five physical senses. Take anger, for example. You may have to close your eyes and really imagine what it feels like. Locate the emotion in your body and describe it as concretely as you can. Is it heavy? Prickly? Fizzy? Slimy? Does it move, or does it stay still? What color is it? What flavor? What does it smell like? What does it sound like? How does it move?
I’m sure there are more ways to play around with metaphor. What exercises do you use?