4 Ways to Craft Metaphors and Increase Writing Voice

Writing metaphors is not something that comes easy to me. I connected with Jack Hart’s description of his own writing in his book Story Craft when he says,

“I started my writing career with a cinderblock’s sense of metaphor.”

Hart, STORY CRAFT, p. 73

I’m always impressed when I read a fresh metaphor, something that tickles my brain and helps me to understand exactly what the writer is talking about. Becoming a master of writing metaphors takes practice. 

There are several ways to practice creating the perfect metaphor.

Let’s look at 4 ways to craft metaphors and increase writing voice.

  1. Jack Hart suggests playing the “Metaphor Game” which can be played anywhere with a friend. One points to any object along the roadside and the other crafts a simile, which can then be turned into a metaphor.
  2. On page 81 in Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark, a writer who’s tempted to write a common phrase, such as “white as snow” should stop writing, breather, then quickly make a list of other ways to say the phrase. For example: “white as snow, white as Snow White, snowy white, gray as city snow, gray as London Sky, white as the Queen of England.” If you work quickly and push yourself past a list of 5, eventually, your creative brain shows up and delivers something surprising.
  3. One of the best ways to flex those metaphor muscles is to read poetry, according to Rebecca McClanahan in her book called Word Painting (p108). Poetry is filled with inspiring metaphors. 
  4. Or you can study the structure of someone else’s metaphors. In Angeline Boulley’s debut book, Fire Keeper’s Daughter, a NY Times best seller and one of Reese Witherspoon’s book club choices, Angeline has woven fantastic metaphors throughout the entire story. Here’s one:

“Her laughter is a wind chime of glass shards, quick and pretty but with dangerous edges.”

Boulley, FIRE KEEPERS DAUGHTER, p. 83

Wowie- can you hear it?!

She compares a girl’s laugh to a wind chime. At first glance, you think, “how pretty,” but then Angeline add more depth and tone…”a wind chime of glass shards” and connects that with “with dangerous edges.” 

If we take a look at how the sentence is set up:

Noun is (compared to) a completely different SPECIFIC noun, (adjective description) and (adjective description) but (description of the second specific noun). Sound and touch are involved as well as a threatening tone. (click for a tone list)

Another example is on p199,

“Something pulls me away from the red-hot flare of anger.”

Boulley, FIRE KEEPERS DAUGHTER, p199

Angeline doesn’t just say someone has a bad temper, she infuses sounds (sizzling flare) and touch (red-hot), along with a furious tone this time.

So let’s play.

Here’s a line from my work-in-progress that I’m starting with: History stories connect family generations.

To start I’ll generate a work bank including all the words I associate with “history”- and if one word makes me think of another word, I’ll write that down too even if it doesn’t seem to belong. I’m going to keep following the train of thought even if it goes off track a bit.

Old, stories, time periods, past, passed, ancestors, teachers, Social Studies, Ancient Times, ancient leaders, Chiefs, treaties, land loss, reservations, ledger art, horses, community groups, bands, tribes, skins, robes, buffalo, deer, elk teeth, decorations, feathers, eagle feathers, headdress, sinew, beadwork, art, hunting, gathering, harsh, limited, organic, scarce, resources, gifts, reciprocity.

Now I’ll rewrite the phrase in different ways, incorporating a few of the words from my word bank. Here it goes:

  • History stories connect
  • Generations of histories are told
  • Generations connect with stories
  • Recorded history of art
  • Ledger art on paper
  • Paper history recorded, land lost
  • Ancestors illustrate history, decorate skins with elk teeth
  • Illustrated history in art, awarded in feathers, emblazoned in colors
  • colorful beads, smooth white elk teeth, silky soft feathers, crack of dead branches, bendable green growth, soil sows the seeds…

This is where an image appears in my mind – a strong tree, a strong root system, seeds. I rewrote the sentence, copied it, exchanged words, played with the order, kept trying to figure out what I wanted to say. Here’s where I ended up:

History stories are the roots of the family, reaching out generation to generation, providing knowledge seeds and support in one big, tangled embrace.

It’s still a work in progress, but I’m satisfied where I ended up. I think sound is involved (telling stories) and touch (reaching out, hugging) and there’s a loving tone. It’s not exactly the same structure as the example above, but my original has improved.

I’m on a mission this year to practice crafting more metaphors in my writing. My next posts will lift lines that cause me to pause and think while I’m reading. I’ll look at the structure and try to use the pattern in my own writing to develop my own writing voice.

Happy Writing!

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Andrea

Andrea

Children's Author and Educator

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