Writing Exercises with Metaphors

writing exercises with metaphors

Writing exercises using metaphors. Creative Commons License photo credit: franzi β™₯ 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 clichΓ©s (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 sayΒ 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


About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


22 Responses to “Writing Exercises with Metaphors”

  1. Karen Swim says:

    Melissa, what a great point! Visual metaphors are a common persuasion tactic. Applying the same tactic to other forms of writing has a similar impact. I never consciously thought about that until your post. We want to draw readers in whether we’re writing a poem, blog post, short story, or marketing messages. We want them to feel, and act. When working on jobs for clients I am innately aware of this fact but seem to forget it when writing for myself. Thanks for the excellent tip!

    Karen Swims last blog post..Tips for Managing Your Energy When the Battle Grows Fierce

    • Jesse Byron says:

      Hmm, I never though of metaphors as being a tool for persuasion. Last year in my English class we had to write a persuasive/argumentative paper, and now I will have to go back and see what I can add to it.

  2. Deb says:

    I have done some pieces in the past using metaphor but I think I tend to make it do too much. It’s like my imagination is on speed or something. So I have sort of forbidden myself to do for a while now. Maybe it works best if the piece is in one form and the metaphor slant is introduced in a rewrite? It’s worth contemplating because I think it could be a useful tool to navigate difficult topics. At least that the reason I used it in the past.

  3. @Karen, The metaphor really jumps out at the reader. I think it’s useful for otherwise dry, boring pieces and helps to make them more palatable. I forget to use it too, so this was a good reminder for me.

    @Deb (gscottage), I think any way that the metaphor finds its way into your writing is fine (rewrite or otherwise). I’ve incorporated metaphor during the rewrite and the first draft and haven’t found one way to be better than the other. There is something to be said about spontaneity though. A forced metaphor can be obvious.

  4. Ellen Wilson says:

    I automatically think in symbols and metaphors so this isn’t a problem for me. This is a great subject, though, Melissa, because I do think that our minds generate many associations through the use of metaphor. Metaphor and symbol tend to link everything together.

    My problem is linearity. I write a lot of articles and it is more of a struggle to me than writing fiction. If I do a good job there is a certain high in completing a well crafted piece.

  5. Friar says:

    Ellen gave me sh*t on Brett’s blog, implying I dont’ know what a metaphor is. She said I should come here and read your post. So here I am.

    A metaphor has something to do with moons and balloons, right, Ellen? πŸ™‚

    Actually, I DO know what a metaphor is…I’m trying put a few in my writing (I hope!)

    I like the gentle reminders you write, Melissa. You make sure we stay honest and don’t forget our English lessons.

    Friars last blog post..…Not the Captain, too!

  6. @Ellen, That’s a good point and one I hadn’t really considered — the idea that symbols resonate so strongly. In either case, it boils down to the strength of an image or sensation and the impact that has on a reader.

    @Friar, Hello there! Glad you could stop by πŸ˜‰ You’re right, we mustn’t forget our English lessons. After all, that’s where we learn all the rules that we are destined to break.

  7. Ellen Wilson says:

    @Friar – Moons and balloons? Wha?! Just trying to give you a little help. Jumping in a cold lake is to real. Now you can get all warm and fuzzy and metaphorical. Well, metaphores don’t have to be warm and fuzzy. They can be quite stark and naked. Maybe that flower is getting to me. Anyway, this is a good post!

    @Melissa – I think we all connect to certain primal symbols, what Carl Jung called archetypes. We understand these symbols at a deep unconscious level. I thought of doing a post on that someday.

  8. Ellen Wilson says:

    Man, I’m making all kinds of stupid mistakes on posts today – like to instead of too, their when I should use they’re. Damn. Oh, well, I’m human and I’m tired! E

  9. @Ellen, I couldn’t agree more with you regarding the power of archetypes and primal symbols. I hope you do write a post about that topic, which has always fascinated me. I’ll be looking forward to it! And on those silly little mistakes…no worries! We’ve all been there. I recently made one in a blog post title for shame! Ugh.

  10. Friar says:


    If I had an English teacher as interesting as you in High School (instead of the dill-weed who taught me), I would have ended up embracing literature and English, instead of hating it.

    Mabye there’s still hope for me yet.

    Friars last blog post..Friar Toons (May 23, 2008)

  11. @Friar, Aw, you’re too kind! I thought about becoming an English teacher. Actually, I sort of wanted to teach at the college level (creative writing) but I’m not big on public speaking. Thank you πŸ™‚

  12. Friar says:


    I looked into teaching college a few years back. They would only hire part-time. It paid 25 bucks an hour ,but they would only pay you for the 4-6 hours a week you actually lectured! (You wouldn’t even get Prep Time).

    Ouch. I didnt’ feel like living off $150 a week. So I ended up at the Widget Factory.

    Friars last blog post..Friar Versus the Grayheads Part IV

  13. @Friar, That’s a shame and surprising that they wouldn’t compensate for prep time, which is probably where teachers do most of their work!

  14. Ellen Wilson says:

    It’s never too late! If you want to teach creative writing at the college level it is possible, competitive, but possible. I have noticed there are a huge glut of MFAers out there. Often, they don’t stick with it though, and get jobs in realestate or something. It takes a lot of discipline to write and teach. As you know.
    @Friar – They only give you prep time in high school. You get 1 hour.

  15. @Ellen, It takes a lot of discipline to write and freelance too! I do like the idea of teaching but I’m not a big fan of public speaking. In fact, I have less than zero desire to stand up and speak in front of a crowd (even a small one that fits inside a classroom). I can dance in front of the world but my tongue is tied!

  16. MIchele says:

    This is a great post, Melissa, and like the others, I’ve often thought you’d make a great English teacher. Well, really you are! You teach your readers so much here, at Writing Forward. Who knows, maybe in 20 years you’ll take college creative writing classes by storm, hardly taking a breath! I’d love to be in your creative writing class. πŸ˜‰

    And, if that doesn’t happen… just write us a book! πŸ™‚


  17. @Michele, Well that is a huge compliment πŸ™‚ I am not out to teach as much as I am trying to share my experiences, hoping they can help someone. A book does sound like a fun project. If only I had the time…Well, like you said, maybe in 20 years πŸ˜‰

  18. Michele says:

    You’re welcome. πŸ˜‰ Well, I think sharing our experiences actually does teach, don’t you? I love to learn and glean from those around me. And, I hope I can offer something for someone else to glean from as well. πŸ™‚

    The book… the time… Well, 20 years was off the top of my head–about getting up the nerve to teach. I hope it doesn’t have to actually be that long before we can read a book of yours!


  19. Debra L. Butterfield says:

    Melissa, I agree. Metaphors enhance my reading experiences, but I do struggle to find the right ones when I’m writing. After NaNoWriMo I’m going to give your writing exercise a try.

    I would also like to say I’ve read books where metaphors and similes were used so often they nauseated me, instead of exciting me.