Writing Exercises with Metaphors
A while back, I wrote a post that had nothing to do with food at all. 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 with 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 throughout the piece. Think about how you can weave the metaphor throughout your writing. 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 even a short story
Exercise #2: Metaphor Refresh
Choose a piece of writing that is finished but not quite polished. Or choose a piece that you’re currently developing. Try going 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. Review it with metaphors in mind and look for opportunities where the piece would benefit from 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 Mashup
Review the first exercise above (“Thread the Metaphor”) and then make a list of 25 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 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 all 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.