Reposted, revised on: Sunday, 12 July 2008
Exercise: In 300 words or less, create a scene that includes at least one metaphor. Make sure it is relevant to the story.
Metaphors and similes are common tools used by writers to make comparisons. Both help to increase understanding in an original and effective way.
The difference between the two, simply put, is that a metaphor equates one thing with another. A simile doesn't go quite that far; it states that one thing is LIKE another. Examples:
This guy is a thorn in my side.
Fog creeps in on little cat feet. (—Carl Sandburg)
Elizabeth Bishop's poem "Armadillo" uses this metaphor to describe a baby rabbit: "so soft!-a handful of intangible ash with fixed, ignited eyes."
Sandra McPherson in Alleys uses this metaphor to describe the first flower she picked for her husband:
Not even a withered flower anymore,
But the dust of the first thing I did for him."
This guy is like a thorn in my side.
(Don't confuse this with the Valley Girl metaphor: This guy is, like, a thorn in my side.)
A good metaphor is original, fresh and revealing, and does not have to explain itself. It is closer to understatement than to exaggeration. To work, no matter how abstract, a metaphor must be on target and truthful without being farfetched. It must also avoid clichés. Sometimes an author will extend a metaphoric idea with many variances within a single story or poem.
These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop.