01 July 2019
Metaphor is a powerful tool for writers and poets but what effect does it have on your readers?
Metaphor is powerful instrument in a writer’s toolkit. Use metaphors well and readers will respond on an instinctive and emotional level to your prose or poetry. A figure of speech in which something is referred to or compared with a thing it resembles, a metaphor makes a hidden, implicit comparison. ‘My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations’ wrote John Green in The Fault in Our Stars. His use of metaphorical language gives us a beautifully vivid impression of a mind full of bright, sparkling ideas that will not coalesce into a pattern.
• ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players’ – William Shakespeare
Metaphor is a psychological as well as literary technique to help create understanding. For a writer, it is a way of using language to manipulate the way the reader responds. Metaphor allows a writer to control the way readers perceive what’s been written. A metaphor has the effect of showing a thing in a way that shines a new light on it (see, a metaphor about metaphors!) and a skilled writer can use it to illustrate a character’s viewpoint as well as illuminate the narrator’s point of view.
• ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’ – Emily Dickinson
Unlike simile (ie not ‘like a…’), which is a direct comparison, one effect of a metaphor on a reader is that it helps with ‘show not tell’. Metaphor, which allows writers to convey vivid imagery that transcends literal meanings, creates images that are easier to understand and respond to than literal language. Metaphorical language activates the imagination, and the writer is more able to convey emotions and impressions through metaphor. Metaphor expresses nuances for which no standard vocabulary exists, and entices readers to think in abstract ways.
• ‘The parents looked on Matilda in particular as nothing more than a scab’ – Roald Dahl
One effect of metaphor is to make writing memorable. Making language more colourful and interesting, it has the effect of charming, or pleasing, or entertaining the reader, making them see something in a whole new light. Through metaphor, a writer can create unique analogies (a little girl/a scab) and add texture and interest to the way things are shown that works much better than factual description. By allowing the writer the possibility of stronger descriptions, metaphor has the effect of creating writing with strong impact and a lasting impression.
• Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life - Pablo Picasso
Using metaphor allows a writer to create images related to dreaming, and use words to beautiful effect. One effect of metaphor on the reader is that it creates connection and empathy – because metaphor delivers more than literal significance, it can make a reader understand something at a deeper level than any literal description. Metaphors in poetic language appeal directly to the senses, and one reason poets often use metaphor is to describe things that can’t be said in ordinary language. This is not just an effective use of language – it contributes to creating an individual voice and style for a writer.