Writing Exercises with Metaphors

writing exercises with metaphors

Writing exercises using metaphors. Creative Commons License photo credit: franzi ♥ PHOTOS on Flickr.

A while back, I wrote a post that had nothing to do with food, but food became a running metaphor while I was revising. The food metaphor was so delicious (or maybe I was so hungry) that I rewrote the entire post with food on the brain.

The blog posts that I write with metaphors always get a lot of positive feedback and everyone seems to embrace them. So I thought why not make writing exercises out of metaphors?

So, what makes metaphors work?

The most effective metaphors trigger our senses by connecting an otherwise intangible subject to sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste. If you can engage any of these senses through metaphor, your writing will take on new life. Not only will it become more entertaining and more memorable, it will be easier for readers to relate to what you’re saying.

Writing exercises that focus on metaphors present a great challenge for learning how to use one of the most effective literary devices at our disposal. And using metaphors in our writing helps us engage readers’ senses. Metaphors are a lot of fun because tickling the senses is…well…sensual. So let’s try it, shall we?

Exercise #1: Thread the Metaphor

Step One: Choose a Topic

Just about any topic will do, but keep in mind that some topics don’t need the help of a metaphor. Subjects like sex, food, music, and anything else that intrinsically affects the senses might not benefit from a metaphor the way more abstract topics will. Think about subjects you’ve explored recently in your writing. Were there any topics that felt flat or dry? You can revisit those topics and see how a metaphor adds dimension and makes a piece more compelling.

Step Two: Choose a Metaphor

Choose one of the five senses and come up with something that affects that particular sense. Here are some examples:

  • Sight: the bold colors of a Picasso painting, anything with motion (traffic, trains, the sea), scenic landscapes
  • Touch: the warmth of velvet, the hard cool of steel, or the scratchy texture of wool
  • Taste: foods or flavors — sweet, spicy, rich, or tart
  • Sound: city sounds, nature (birds tweeting), music, a roaring engine, or absolute quiet
  • Scent: spring showers, shampoo and soaps, swimming pools, a wet dog

Also, be on the lookout for metaphors that work and metaphors that don’t. Some metaphors are tired and have become clichés (stopping to smell the roses comes to mind). Look for unique and original metaphors and notice which ones don’t quite make the grade.

Step Three: Write

Write a short essay about your topic, threading the metaphor through the piece. For example, if you’re going to use the bold colors of a Picasso painting as your metaphor, you can play off your metaphor by mixing in new metaphors about canvasses, paintbrushes, color, and light. You can even get into museums, history, and just about any other area where art is part of the context.

Metaphors work well in almost any type of writing, so you can use this exercise to draft a blog post, a poem, or a short story

Exercise #2: Metaphor Refresh

Go through your journal or files where you store pieces you’ve written and see if there’s anything that could be reworked and made more enticing through the use of a metaphor. For example, metaphors often work well in place of lengthy descriptions. Instead of trying to describe how complex and mysterious life is, we can simply say life is a puzzle.

Exercise #3: Metaphor Mash-Up

Review the first exercise above (“Thread the Metaphor”) and then make a list of twenty-five things. They can be people, places, objects, and topics for discussion. For each item on the list, come up with a single metaphor that could represent it. Be open minded as you work through the list. For example, one of your items might be child. If you come up with munchkin as a metaphor, you’ll discover that the child has taken on personality and specific features. Let the items on your list inspire the metaphors, but then let the metaphors influence the items in return.

Use Metaphors Wisely!

If you decide to tackle any of these writing exercises, come back here and tell us about it!

Have writing exercises like these helped you improve your writing? Have they inspired new ideas? How have metaphors served your writing? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment.

Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.

101 Creative Writing Exercises


Writing Exercises: Freewriting

writing exercises in freewriting

FREE writing exercises (literally).

One of the most valuable writing exercises I learned in college was freewriting.

When you sit down with a pen and paper and let words flow freely, amazing things can happen.

At first, freewriting is a bit of a struggle, but if you stick with it, you will produce some gems. The trick is to get out of the way, and let your subconscious take over. Most writing exercises ask you to think. This one requires you do anything but that.

Freewriting is not like other writing exercises; it allows you to generate written material for a variety of projects. It can also help you clear your head or tap into your deeper thoughts.

Writing Exercises and Train of Thought

The first few times I tried freewriting, I botched it. I would describe everything I’d done that day or jot down my thoughts on a particular subject in a random, messy way. Finally, in one of my creative writing classes, I got to hear some examples of freewriting and something clicked. Freewriting is not about train of thought, it’s about stream of consciousness, and there’s a big difference.

Here is an example of one of my early attempts at freewriting:

I set the microwave timer for 30 minutes so that I wouldn’t write for too long, although I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt if I did. Usually I do freewrites in a journal. I have a tendency to reflect on the current events of my personal life during a freewrite.

Yes, I was actually writing about how I was writing.

Train-of-thought writing exercises are pretty coherent. For the most part, the text makes sense, as you can see in the example above. The technique involves writing on a particular subject in a pretty clear manner. This can be useful in many ways, but it won’t tap into your deeper creativity the way freewriting will.

I use train-of-thought writing for clearing my mind or to prepare for writing a nonfiction piece as a brainstorming method to churn out all the information I have stored in my head. But when I’m looking for poetic images or vivid characters, freewriting does a much better job.

Writing Exercises and Stream of Consciousness

After hearing another student’s freewriting read aloud, I had a much better grasp on it. Here’s a sample of what I wrote once I better understood what freewriting was all about:

in moonshine eyelet lace a rhapsody of liquors dancing off light reflected in the cut glass spoons stirring iced candy meltdown of hopes washed out memories of faded photographs and standing in line at a supermarket eyeing the magazines their eyes watching you like cats high up in trees crying for freedom but afraid to come down

The key to stream-of-consciousness writing is to relax your thinking mind and let the images of your subconscious take over. For some people, it takes a little practice, but once you get it down, it becomes a neat trick. So what can you do with it?

Applications for Freewriting

Once you’ve built up a nice collection of freewrites, you have created a repository of images and lines, sentences, and paragraphs. You can now go through and harvest the material for your various writing projects. As you can imagine, the fruits of freewriting lend themselves particularly well to poetry.

When I’m writing poetry, I often go through my freewrites with a highlighter, marking words and phrases that pop or strike me as especially meaningful or aesthetically pleasing. Then I pull these from the freewrite and use them to compose a poem.

Freewrites can also be used to bring creative, colorful language into prose. Strong images and rich language generate work that is more literary in nature, and if done well, it’s a lot more fun to read. It will help you generate words that show rather than tell and make your story or essay come alive more easily in a reader’s mind.

Have you ever tried freewriting? Do you tend toward train-of-thought or stream-of-consciousness writing? Are there any other writing exercises you recommend for creating more vivid prose or poetry?

If you have any writing exercises to share, feel free to post them in the comments.

Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.

101 creative writing exercises

3 Fiction Writing Exercises

Three fiction writing exercises

Fiction writing exercises for story development.

Fiction writing exercises can help you discover storytelling techniques and provide ideas and inspiration for your fiction writing projects.

For writers who are young or just starting out with fiction, these exercises provide practice and experience. For more experienced writers, these exercises offer inspiration and can help you see a story from new angles.

Today’s fiction writing exercises are carefully chosen to help you develop some of the most critical components in a story. If you can create a few characters; identify a conflict, climax, and resolution; and choose a theme, you’re well on your way to writing a short story or novel that will resonate with readers.

These exercises are similar to assignments you would complete in a college-level fiction writing class, exercises that push you in the direction of writing material that can be published. You can tackle these exercises separately, but I recommend using them to develop ideas around a single story.

1. Character Exercise: Sketching a Protagonist and an Antagonist

We often think of them as the bad guy and the good guy or the hero and the villain, but those terms are becoming outdated as modern storytelling increasingly embraces protagonists who are highly flawed and antagonists who aren’t 100% evil.

The Exercise: Sketch two characters who are in conflict with each other.

Do not identify a protagonist or antagonist, just create two characters. Both characters should have the potential to be good or evil. Start with physical descriptions, then get inside the characters’ heads to establish their inner landscapes, and finally, work up a bit of backstory for each of them. Remember, these two characters have a fundamental conflict with each other. What is it? The core of this exercise is identifying that conflict.

2. Plot Exercise: Conflict, Climax, and Resolution

The three-act structure is one of the simplest and most effective way to break down a story. Often, the acts are 1) Setup, 2) Confrontation, and 3) Resolution. I think of the three-act structure as 1) Conflict, 2) Climax, and 3) Resolution because those are the three pinnacles in each of the three acts. In the first part of a story, we learn what the conflict is. The second (and largest portion) of the story builds up to a climax in which the conflict hits boiling point. Finally, the third act resolves the conflict.

The Exercise: Determine a conflict, climax, and resolution for a story. You can use the two characters you created in the first exercise for this.

Conflict examples: Two people vying for the same job, a natural disaster, people-eating aliens landing on Earth.

Climax examples: In a big showdown, one job candidate smears the other and knocks the opponent out of the race. A natural disaster claims the lives of half of Earth’s population. Humans engage in a final battle with people-eating aliens.

Resolution examples: The job candidate who got smeared makes a comeback and gets the job. Earth’s survivors rebuild after a planet-wide natural disaster. Against all odds, humans win the battle against aliens with superior technology.

3. Theme Exercise: Universal Ideas

Theme is difficult to explain, but Wikipedia does a good job:

A theme is a broad idea, message, or moral of a story. The message may be about life, society, or human nature. Themes often explore timeless and universal ideas and are almost always implied rather than stated explicitly. Along with plot, character, setting, and style, theme is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction.

I usually think of theme as the big questions that a story asks or its underlying philosophies.

The exercise: Choose a theme and write a list of ways in which a theme can be executed through the course of a story.

You can choose a theme for the characters you sketched in the first exercise or for the three-act structure you developed in the second exercise. For example, in a story where two characters are vying for the same job, the theme might be dream fulfillment (if it’s one or both of the characters’ dream job).

As an alternative, try to identify themes in other stories. Think about your favorite books, movies, and TV shows and make lists of some themes you’ve found in storytelling.

Get Busy with Fiction Writing Exercises

Do you think about character, plot, and theme when you’re working on a story? Do you plan these elements in advance or let them unfold through discovery writing? Who are some of your favorite characters? Can you think of a truly original plot in modern storytelling? What themes in fiction appeal to you the most? And finally, do you use fiction writing exercises and if you do, how have they helped you improve your writing?

Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.

101 creative writing exercises


3 Writing Exercises of Great Length

writing exercises of great length

Try these writing exercises!

Today, I’d like to share some writing exercises based on an assignment I had to do in college, which has always stuck with me.

Writing a single, 100-word sentence sounds pretty easy, but once you sit down and actually attempt it, you’ll find out just how challenging it is, especially if you want your sentence to be grammatically correct.

You might think you can compose a lengthy sentence in just a few minutes. But you’ll soon find that it takes a little time. When you try to scale a long passage down to just a few words, that will take some time too.

Set aside about thirty minutes to tackle today’s writing exercises and see how long-winded you can be, then see how brief you can be.

All three of today’s writing exercises force you to think about word choice. Is your prose too verbose? Too meager? Could you say the same thing in fewer words?

The Writing Exercises:

1. Write one sentence that is at least one hundred words long. Here are the rules: It has to be a good sentence. You can’t use unnecessary, superfluous adjectives and adverbs. It has to make sense and sound right when read aloud. And it has to be punctuated properly. It can’t be a run-on sentence and it can’t be a series of sentences strung together with commas and semicolons (no splices!). It can be about anything, but it has to meet the word count.

2. Complete the first exercise, then rewrite the sentence in ten words or less.

You have to say the same thing using a fraction of the words. Don’t leave out any important details!

3. Here’s the combo: write two sentences — one must be exactly 70 words long and the other exactly seven words. Oh and they have to comprise a paragraph. Try it with fifty words, then five words. Twenty words, then two.

The challenge here is in contrast. You go from writing an extremely long sentence to a relatively short one, and they have to be connected in some way, so they can exist in the same paragraph.

Give it a Try!

If you decide to tackle these writing exercises, feel free to post your sentences in the comments section. Good luck, and keep writing.

Don’t forget to pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.

101 creative writing exercises


Three Poetry Writing Exercises

three poetry writing exercises

Stretch your writing muscles with these poetry writing exercises.

If you’re going to exercise, it’s a good idea to warm up first. That way, you’ll get your body geared up to do the heavy lifting, the hard running, and the strenuous workout.

Writing’s no different.

Poetry writing exercises are ideal when you’re feeling uninspired or lazy, or maybe your poetry is getting stale and you need to take it in a fresh direction. Perhaps you’re getting ready to embark on a big, long writing project and want to warm up first.

Today’s poetry writing exercises are good starters and don’t require you to know anything about poetry or have any experience writing poems. In fact, some of these exercises are just that–exercises–no poetry writing required.

Poetry Writing Exercises

These poetry writing exercises are designed to get you thinking about rhythm, language, and imagery in your writing. Let’s jump right in!

1. Alliteration and Assonance Lists

Create a list of word pairs and phrases that are built around alliteration or assonance. Remember, alliteration is when words in close proximity start with (or contain) the same consonant sound (as in pretty picture). Assonance is when words in close proximity echo vowel sounds (bent pen). Try to come up with at least ten of each. The more, the better.

Bonus exercise: Use the words from your lists to write a poem.

2. Metaphors and Similes for Life

Make a list of significant life events: birth, death, graduation, marriage, having children, starting your own business. Next, come up with one metaphor and one simile for each of these events. Remember, a metaphor is when we say one thing is another thing. A simile is when we say one thing is like another thing.

Metaphor: Life is a dance.
Simile: Life is like a box of chocolates (as a metaphor, this would be life is a box of chocolates).

Tip: Choose metaphors that are visually interesting. Metaphors for life as a dance or box of chocolates are both easy for readers to visualize.

Bonus exercise: Write a poem about one of your life events using only the metaphor or simile you have chosen. When it’s done, your poem should be a bit ambiguous; a reader will wonder whether the poem is literally about the metaphor or metaphorically about the life event.

3. Lyrics and Musicality

Choose a catchy song that you enjoy and rewrite the lyrics, but stick to the rhythm and meter. Try to go way off topic from what the original lyrics were about. You can play the song while you work on the exercise or search for the lyrics online and use those as your baseline. The idea is to get your mind on the musicality in your writing.

Have Fun with These Poetry Writing Exercises!

These poetry writing exercises are meant to be helpful and fun. If you tried any of these exercises, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Did you learn anything? Did you end up writing a poem?

Do you have any poetry writing exercises to share? Have any special requests for exercises that deal with specific areas of writing? Leave a comment!

Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.

101 creative writing exercises

A Writing Exercise in Briefs (Not Underwear)

brief writing exercises

Writing exercises in brevity.

Brett Legree explains why blogging for profit is like collecting underpants. He talks about love of craft but he never does ask (or answer) the question that’s on everyone’s mind: boxers or briefs?

Well, I’m here to tell you why some briefs belong on the page and not in your pants.

Boxers or Briefs?

If writing for the web has taught me anything, it’s brevity. I’ve always written short poems. In fact, my poems are so small, I could slide them up my legs and wear them like a bikini. But my other writing tends to be a bit wordy, more like boxers.

And like boxers, wordy writing is long, and that’s no good, especially for online writing.

Sometimes lengthy writing is necessary and it certainly has its place in many different types of writing, like literary novels. However, on the web, most people scan rather than read, so keeping text short and concise is beneficial because your readers will be able to quickly absorb your points without having to stare at the glaring screen for too long. You can also help your readers scan by including sub-headers and breaking up your text into short paragraphs.

But what if you have a tendency to write extremely lengthy prose?

A Writing Exercise in Brevity

Most writing exercises are designed to get creativity flowing. But this writing exercise challenges you to take a long piece of writing and make it short and sweet.

Luckily, it’s easy. With a few well-placed edits, we can turn boxers into briefs in no time.

Here’s an example of some original text I pulled from one of my many unfinished short stories. I have gone through and crossed out parts that can be eliminated without compromising the integrity of the piece:

Saidra turned her head and took a good hard look up the street. Where were the walkers and joggers that usually passed by throughout the day? She looked the other way. Where were the mommies, with strollers and toddlers in tow, walking their young schoolchildren to their classrooms? She stared straight ahead. Every day, the little old lady across the street came out with her coffee, picked up the newspaper and enjoyed both on her front porch, under a basket of pink and lavendar fuscia. After a quick trip inside, Old Rose, as she was known, always spent the first part of her day tending the garden. Today she was nowhere to be found. The entire street was deserted.

Once I trimmed away the excess, I dressed it up a little, just to make sure it still sounds good and makes sense:

Saidra looked up and down the street. Where were the walkers and joggers? Where were the mommies, walking youngsters to the nearby school? She stared straight ahead. Every day, the little old lady across the street picked up her newspaper and enjoyed it with a cup of tea on her front porch. Today she was nowhere to be found. The entire street was deserted.

How do you like that? I took this from 119 words down to just 64, and in less than ten minutes. It’s like a strip show for word lovers! Hey, who says writing exercises can’t be sexy?

Take it Off

Now it’s your turn to tackle this writing exercise. No, you don’t have to take your clothes off. Then again, the weekend’s almost here so maybe you should. You do, however, have to unclothe a piece of your writing.

Pick a poem, story, or blog post you’ve written. Go through and get rid of words and phrases that aren’t absolutely necessary. Then go through it again, reconnecting everything and rearranging the words that remain so they are compelling. See how short you’re willing to go.

Or, tackle my paragraph and make it even shorter, then show off your skills in the comments section. Come on, I dare you!

If you have any writing exercises to share, feel free to post them in the comments.

Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.

101 creative writing exercises