Do sync with the subject, don’t write a groaner
Don’t mix metaphors. Fewer are more persuasive. Choose one concept for comparison and stick with it.
Here are some other metaphor do’s and don’ts:
DO sync with the subject.
Match your metaphor to your message’s topic and tone.
I once found a participant in one of my writing workshops comparing her company’s new shopping mall to “the phoenix rising from the ashes.” Not only was that a cliché, it was also the wrong comparison and tone for the topic — not to mention the wrong scale.
“Thunderous dunks and lightning-quick running backs offend the serious reader in two ways: 1) They are clichés; and 2) They are questionable, even as hyperbole,” writes Steve Wilson, sports writer, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Unless we can create a fresh image or make a strong case for hyperbole, we should equate forces of nature with acts of humanity.”
The best metaphors are appropriate to the topic, tone, occasion and audience.
Sync with the topic. The more your metaphor draws from the topic, the more elegant the result will be, as this passage from a Time magazine movie review of sensational summer movies illustrates:
Instead of leaving the theater with a rosy glow or warm tears, dyna-moviegoers feel like a James Bond vodka martini. They have been shaken but not stirred.
Sync with the audience. This metaphor from Speechwriter’s Newsletter is in perfect sync with the audience:
I hope your holidays were holidays and that, when they were over, your brain began to hum like an old IBM Selectric.
DON’T overdo it.
A 6-course metaphorical feast can be too rich to digest — and can make your reader feel a bit nauseated after. Break it up with some plain-vanilla explanation.
“Cram three similes into a single paragraph and you become a parody,” writes Jack Hart in A Writer’s Coach. “Write page after page of featureless prose and you become a drudge. So work your way through a rough draft eliminating and adding color. A figure of speech every third of fourth paragraph is usually about right.”
Try Hart’s recommendation:
Limit your metaphors to one every three or four paragraphs or so.
Communicate, don’t decorate. The key: Make sure your metaphors don’t distract from your message. So ask, “Is this metaphor architecture? Or interior design?”
Don’t write a groaner.
Metaphors can be great. They can grab attention, clarify complex concepts and entertain your readers.
But sometimes writers, working toward a metaphor, reach too far and wind up writing a groaner instead. Take these, from an article in the latest issue of Women’s Health magazine:
Not that you should squirm like a toddler-tortured caterpillar during a workout.
Your power levels are at their highest, so make the most of them by going hard and sweating like a wool-wearing Floridian.
I don’t know about you, but I’m sweating like a wool-wearing Floridian just reading this.
Leave a Reply