The value in reworking your metaphors #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

The value in reworking your metaphors

Have you ever noticed, when reading a metaphor, that the idea is solid, but the execution hasn’t quite hit the mark? And when I say metaphor, I’m referring to all subcategories of metaphorical language (simile, metaphor, personification, etc.)

For this post, I’ve decided to take early drafts of some of my own metaphors from my current novel, describe what wasn’t working, and then you can compare it to the revision. My hope is that this will help other writers identify logic, originality, and clarity issues with their own metaphorical language and rework accordingly.

EXAMPLE 1 DRAFT: Marcelle’s eyes were downcast when she knocked into Jen, and Jen spun like a turnstile.

DISCUSSION: I liked what I was going for here, the image of a turnstile, but it wasn’t quite what I wanted. While a turnstile does spin, and the logic works in a way, this makes it seem like Jen is the one being likened to a turnstile, when the image in my head was that Marcelle was the turnstile and Jen the human that got spun out of it/her.

EXAMPLE 1 REWORKED: Marcelle’s eyes were downcast when she knocked into Jen, causing Jen to spin like she’d been shot out of a turnstile.

EXAMPLE 2 DRAFT: The drumming in her head grew stronger.

DISCUSSION: In this scene, I already alluded to the beginnings of a headache, so I’m confident readers will understand that drumming is metaphorical for the thumping pain typical of headaches, but because drumming is a commonly used a metaphor for headache pain, I wondered if I could try for something a little fresher. Also, because the headache is growing, I wanted better imagery than just one drum, a whole orchestra’s worth, in fact. Fair warning: I had recently finished reading The Bell Jar when I revised this, and I was all about the hyperbole.

EXAMPLE 2 REWORKED: The percussive ache in her head would soon be worthy of a conductor’s baton.

EXAMPLE 3 DRAFT: By 12:16 A.M., it was just Maeve and the grasshoppers, her heartbeat at the rate of their metronome.

DISCUSSION: I don’t hate my draft, but for argument’s sake, I wanted to know if I could clarify a little, because I wasn’t sure if it’s general knowledge that grasshoppers sound a lot like crickets. Also, I had already used “at the rate of” close to this passage, and I didn’t want to sound repetitive.

EXAMPLE 3 REWORKED: By 12:16 A.M., it was just Maeve and the grasshoppers, her heartbeat in time with the metronome of their chirping.

How to workshop your metaphorsSo get it all out in the first draft, but be prepared to spend some extra time with your metaphors during revision.

Do you ever notice metaphors that fall flat when reading? Do you pay special attention to metaphorical language when revising? Please share 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.

Thank you to Freepik for the image I used in this post.

68 thoughts on “The value in reworking your metaphors #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. Great post Raimey – another good tip is to jot down useful metaphors when you come across them – then ‘tweak’ them before recycling. (As an historical fiction author, this often means making them relevant to the time period.)

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    1. This is one of Margie Lawson’s tips as well, and helps ensure we don’t use cliche metaphors. The other tip (similar to Tony’s) is to use metaphors which fit the character e.g. use a rodeo metaphor for a cowboy.

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  2. Your reworks are spot on. I find metaphors insanely difficult. I have noticed that out of context, metaphors almost always sound awkward, save a few “As approachable as a porcupine”, “like a Benny Hill sketch that hasn’t found its punchline yet”. These aren’t mine. I am so not this clever.

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  3. Metaphors should be seriously considered in revision, after we have a better idea of what our story is about. Themes, locations, personalities, actions all help the writer with what kind of metaphor to try. Raimey, you have some great metaphors here. The only one that troubles me is the turnstile one. It could be because I don’t know the story or what’s happening in the scene or what happened right before this passage. When I think of spinning out of someone’s grip, I think of dancing or a seed whirling a distance from the tree to the ground.

    Thanks for all you do to assist your fellow writer, Raimey. These posts definitely get us thinking.
    http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com

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  4. I’m definitely a big believer in “get it out” then go back and fix it. Often I will type out many different phrases, or write the same phrase multiple times with slight tweaks. I find that, by writing it down, there’s both security in knowing I don’t have to remember it, and it also seems to “clear it from my mind”, making room for other ideas. Often the very fact that something “doesn’t work” helps guide you to what will.
    Thanks for sharing.

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      1. Mmm. And sometimes there’s merit in letting the mind wander, in setting out with “less direction and control”, so that the errant childlike component of creativity is free to play, and find its way.

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  5. Sometimes bad metaphors can make for wonderful humor, though. And I like the idea of approaching the narrated metaphor via some deep POV (or close psychic distance) to sometimes have a clumsy articulation of a metaphor reflect a character’s state of mind.

    But of course, if you don’t want people laughing or cringing at the metaphors, then they often require some extra attention in revision. And I fully agree with you: my first draft metaphors frequently don’t hit the mark.

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    1. That’s an interesting point. I’d have to be really certain I’d conveyed the character’s frame of mind, and that the clumsy metaphor was a result of said frame of mind, to attempt this. Something to try!

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  6. I love using similes and metaphors. Yours are quite inventive and descriptive. I also tend to describe people by comparing them to well-known persons — His profile was like that of Alfred Hitchcock. The danger here is not all readers may know the person I chose to use. 🙂 Thanks for another year of AuthorToolBoxBlogHop.

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    1. I think that’s the same for all of us to a degree. All we can do is work to improve our writer’s ear when it comes to our own work. Try paying attention to metaphors in books you’re reading, and see where other author’s succeed and go wrong. That’s what I do.

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  7. You nailed it when you said get it out. That is the key. In our first go around we know what we’re trying to say but it doesn’t always work out the way we hoped.

    Perfect examples on how to work it and get it right.

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    1. I have to be careful about that, too. It’s one of my biggest fears when writing, that I’m recycling metaphors I’ve used elsewhere. That and that I’ll dry up of ideas, that I’ll be all metaphored out at some point.

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  8. Those are great teaching examples. I’ve read some really, odd metaphors that take my out of the story as I try to imagine what they mean. Sometimes I feel like I’m not clever enough to come up with ones that entertain and clarify.
    Susan Says

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    1. I sometimes feel that way, too. Actually, when I come across a metaphor that I don’t understand, I sometimes (though, not always) come to the conclusion that it’s the author’s fault. They aren’t being clear enough about their intention.

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  9. Great call outs here, Raimey! I’m a fan of metaphors but do find them challenging at times. Love the tip to write down metaphors that work for inspiration. I also really appreciate you providing different drafts of your metaphors at different stages – that sharing, in and of itself, is brave and a great example for the rest of us writers.

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  10. These are great examples of metaphors – and I especially liked how you strengthened each of them.
    I do notice metaphors when I’m reading, but the only time they start to stand out is when the author uses at least one metaphor on every page or more – it can get exhausting to read that many and it actually throws me out of the scene if there are too many metaphors, which start to work against each other instead of together. I really appreciate it when an author has a main metaphor in a chapter (or even a novel) and sticks with it, maybe deepening it as the chapter continues.

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  11. This is really great advice. As some of the others have mentioned, an imprecise metaphor can stop the flow of a story cold. There’s also the danger of wandering down cliche lane. Crisp, vivid, original images are our goal!

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  12. I am a new writer and just now editing my first project. I’m really struggling with my metaphors. I always thought that I was a creative person and a creative writer but when its time to use my creativity, I draw a blank! Please tell me it gets easier!

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    1. It does. I had the same concerns when I started. I think you just need to try to be observant about the world around you and practice. What do everyday things remind you of? Listen to metaphors in songs, pay attention to what you’re reading. When you read or hear a metaphor that appeals to you, look at the mechanics of the sentence, try to think of how the writer achieved the effect, even try to recreate the effect with another metaphor. Practice, think about it a lot, read a lot, and you’ll get to a more confident place. 🙂

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  13. Raimey, I really enjoyed this post and found it useful. I, like many, use metaphors to spice up dialogues and descriptions of people, place and events. Often they fall flat or become overused. I love the idea of circling back and spicing them up. Thanks.

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