Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Writing Life: Ways to Use Metaphors

By JJ Murphy

Making comparisons is a way to increase our understanding.

Metaphor, a Greek word translated as carry something across, is a way of comparing two things without using the words like or as.

As a writing tool, metaphor can create word pictures in the mind of the reader in a number of ways. Here are a few:

1. Translation. One of the most practical uses for metaphor is to help a reader understand something that is abstract. Consider the following two sentences when determining which has greater impact:

a. He was angry.
b. He narrowed his eyes, drew his thin lips across his teeth and flared his nostrils, emitting a low, but audible growl.

2. Efficiency. Consider these sentences:
a. She lived in a small, cramped, dark place, far away from people; no one came to visit.
b. Her home was a prison.

3. To create meaning for a new concept. We use metaphors when referring to many computer-related products and services including, World Wide Web, mouse and virus.

4. Parts of speech.
a. Verb: The words that lifted her spirits sank his hopes.b. Modifier: Coldness gripped her heart and wrung it.c. Adjective/adverb: Joe is a voracious reader devouring several books a week.d. Prepositional phrase: He studied the landscape with a hunter’s eye.

You know a metaphor has impact when it can communicate an idea, the phrase makes sense, it sticks with the reader and it is true to the reader’s experience.

Writer and naturalist JJ Murphy,, offers creative nature curriculum, wild food recipes, fiction, poetry, articles and writing services for individuals, entrepreneurs, small businesses and ecologically aware companies.


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