Shift imagery to refresh your metaphor
I was delighted when personal finance writer Tom Saler submitted this analogy in a blog post on investing in emerging markets:
Emerging markets are more volatile than developed markets in the same way that teenagers are more volatile than adults. Of course, teens have more growth potential than their elders as well. So how can investors capture that growth, while still limiting their risk?
Comparing emerging markets to teenagers is a fresh, surprising analogy.
Plus, Tom managed to write an investing story that didn’t contain a single egg analogy. In the world according to Ann, writers should avoid common clichés like “nest egg” or “all your eggs in one basket.”
Shift imagery to avoid cliches.
To avoid clichés in your own writing Shift imagery, suggests Tad Simons, editor in chief of Presentations magazine. Try gardening, dancing or cooking images instead.
“If you say someone’s elevator doesn’t go to the top or that they aren’t playing with a full deck of cards, you’re just regurgitating a cliché,” Simons writes. “But if you say they aren’t the sharpest knife in the drawer or they’re a few fries short of a Happy Meal, you’re at least using different imagery to say the same thing.”
Michael C. Porter, APR, and president of SopraVoce Communications, invites you to consider these metaphors:
- Brain function
- An organism and its environment
- Rivers and oceans
- Ancient cultures
- A growing plant
Shifting imagery is one way to avoid lazy writing and make your analogies fresher. Here are some other fresh images I’ve enjoyed lately:
- Bonzai — careful pruning and the like — as a metaphor for managed financial growth.
- Software testing to shrug off a problem. “Hey, life is a beta,” writes Purple Cow author Seth Godin.
- Bespoke tailoring for a story about customizing your financial portfolio to your own needs and dreams. Think: “the perfect fit,” “one size never really does fit all,” “measure twice, cut once,” “fits like a glove.”
- A well-balanced diet (instead of “all your eggs in one basket”) for diversifying your financial portfolio. This extended metaphor included ideas like: Does your financial diet include too much of a good thing? Stocks, bonds and cash are the three basic food groups of a good portfolio. Just as eating only iceberg lettuce isn’t healthy, an equities diet of nothing but large-cap stocks isn’t the best approach for the health of your portfolio.
So skip the sports and war analogies. Try gardening, clothing, dining or ballroom dancing instead. The result will be fresher, more thoughtful images.
Because the world already has too many golf analogies.
Rethink your metaphor.
I love this meme of over-the-top analogies from high-school students’ papers. Use them for inspiration on how to rethink a metaphor to the edge — but not over it.
- His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
- She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
- The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.
- From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30.
- He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.
- Even in his last years, Grandpappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long it had rusted shut.
- The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
- It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.
How can you think like a 9th grader to refresh tired analogies?
Discard your first three ideas.
Don’t use the first comparison that comes to mind, Simons suggests. In fact, discard the first three things that come to mind. Push past your conventional way of thinking to come up with fresh metaphors that really say something new to your audience members.
Sources: Michael C. Porter, APR, “Leveraging the power of metaphor in public forums,” PRSA Tactics, May 2005
Tad Simons, “Mastering the Art of Metaphor,” Presentations Magazine, June 2001
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