How to vary your syntactic use of metaphor #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

How to vary your syntactic use of metaphor

I noticed recently that Sylvia Plath, in her novel The Bell Jar, favored verbs as delivery vehicles for metaphor. Don’t get me wrong; the woman could work a metaphor along the syntactic spectrum, but the verbs really stuck out for me, and it occurred to me that in my own work, which contains a fair amount of metaphorical language, I hadn’t yet mastered Plath’s skill with verbal metaphors. Hence, this post in which I workshop one metaphorical image using different parts of speech and different phrase types.

For the purposes of this post, when I use the term metaphor, I mean Aristotle’s larger, all-encompassing definition: “metaphor is the transference of a term from one thing to another: whether from genus to species, or species to genus.” Subcategories of metaphor, including personification, simile, and metaphor in its narrower definition, are all on the table for this discussion.

Without further ado, let’s see how many different syntactical ways I can use the word worm as a zoomorphism (the subcategory of metaphor concerned with attributing animal characteristics to human, inanimate objects, or intangible concepts.)

As noun in adjective phrase: A worm of drool leaked from Mark’s mouth onto his pillow.

As noun in noun phrase: As Mark drooled, a worm formed on his pillow.

As verb in verb phrase: Drool wormed its way out of Mark’s mouth and onto his pillow.

As adjective in adjective phrase: The worm-shaped puddle of drool could slither right back into Mark’s mouth, as far as Joan was concerned.

As object in noun phrase: Mark’s pillow was slick with a worm of drool.

As noun in adverb phrase: The drool leaked from Mark’s mouth slithery as a worm.

As verb functioning as adjective (present participle) in object phrase: Marks’s pillow was slick with worming drool.

How to vary your syntactic use of metaphorThere are more possibilities, but hopefully the above seven are enough to communicate my point, which is that when it comes to metaphor, you have syntactic options!

Have you ever thought about the mechanics of metaphor in this way before? Let me know in the comments.

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.

75 thoughts on “How to vary your syntactic use of metaphor #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. I have always loved to write. My earliest memories, I’m drawing or writing something from my imagination. But when it comes to verbs, nouns, adjectives and so on I have always fallen flat on my face.

    I can write them but I cannot describe them in a way you just did.

    I probably do this all the time. My mind clicks and the way it goes but to go into description as to how and why I can’t. Half of the time I have no clue where it came from. I guess that’s the magic of it all. It works and I don’t know why.

    Good stuff. I always enjoy your work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure how I went through four years of college as an English Major and never once thought about the syntactic use of metaphor in this way. I feel like this has really granted me a different angle in my upcoming edits. Awesome post, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My pleasure! I spent a lot of time trying to see if anyone else had written or blogged about this specific topic before, and I really couldn’t find much outside of language studies. Nothing for writers. It made me doubt myself at first, but I’m pretty sure I have a valid argument for variety in how we use metaphor.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I love the specificity of this post. When I write, I honestly don’t pay much attention to these word-level choices, but they can certainly change a piece depending on how they’re used. I’ll have to take this and examine my writing more closely! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, and I’m not sure how much this needs to be paid attention to. It’s interesting to reflect on, though, and it can only benefit our writing if we’re conscious of it on some level. 🙂


  4. This reminded me of English Language lessons at school, studying war poetry and learning what the different types of metaphor are. I definitely needed the reminder! Thanks Raimey, great post 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, very clear. Thanks, Raimey! I hadn’t ever thought of syntactic positioning of metaphors. There’s a writer named Benjamin Percy, who was an instructor in my MFA program; he uses a lot of the verbal delivery of metaphor, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I didn’t know the breakdown of all these different ways to use metaphors! I’ve used them all, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I feel like I often do things in my writing that are right without realizing it lol. (and just as many times do I do things wrong!)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, these examples were impressive and very helpful. It’s nice being able to put a technique to an actual name. I know I’ve seen these, but I wouldn’t be able to describe them so thanks for this educational post!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t think I’ve seen a metaphor used from one form to another like that, but it is certainly an effective way to remember all the ways to use a metaphor, especially with that drool example.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post. Enjoyed the examples. I tend to speak and think a bit in metaphor but not sure how much I write that. That is something I should pay attention to, do I do it much? I love philosophy and the metaphor does lend itself well to that which accounts for the speaking and thinking, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow, that’s visual. And also kinda gross, but that’s the point, haha. Offhand I’m drawn to the adjective in adjective phrase, so that’s something to watch out for. I might be overusing it, and need to vary it with some verbs. Thanks for this useful reminder!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I would say grammar is for teachers and analysts and not stroytellers. As in, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” But I am terrible that way. Write for clarity and impact. Particulalrly here, “The worm-shaped puddle of drool could slither right back into Mark’s mouth, as far as Joan was concerned.” Further modifying drool by modifying its shape descritor with a grace note of character such as “nasty” puts it over the top and into okay, we got a scene now land. Because we have an expressed opinion as well as a disgusting metaphorical description that dial it up a notch in several places. We dial up the heat between the characters, we dial up the heat of a single character and we dial up the worm shaped drool. Grace notes PLUS metaphors paint bigger pictures. Add one word to each ofthose examples and see how it turns up the temp, or turns it down, but broadens the impact on the palette.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I wish I were in a place to put more thought into this. Great post Raimey! Really made me think about my word usage. I’d love to be able to use words the way you have in this post. Any suggestions or tips for getting better at thinking about the way you use words when writing?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mandy. Such a great question. I recommend a couple of things: 1. Check out the book Spellbinding Sentences. 2. Try reading three books by three different authors specifically for their use of metaphor. Watch how they do it. Try picking a book in your genre, something really literary, and something classic.


  13. Very educational! And quite the visual imagery with all the worming going on. I admit I have never put that much thought into the use of metaphors. I love it when new ideas send my mind off in unexpected directions. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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