Oh, What a Metaphor (or Simile) Can Do

Robin Archibald

Robin Archibald

by Robin Archibald

As a fiction writer, my job is to engage readers and draw them into my stories. Using metaphors and similes helps me because they put two familiar things side by side, thereby heightening readers’ experience or understanding. Click to Tweet #simile #metaphor

The following simile from my novel “Nanie Glatfelter’s Garden” helps readers see a field of daffodils in a new way:

“Each flower poised demurely atop its stem like a lady accepting a compliment on her beauty. With each gust of wind, the heads bobbed as if in lively conversation.”

But metaphor and simile can do even more in our stories.

Using metaphor to add suspense or enhance mood

Romantic suspense writer Mary Stewart creates a wonderfully spooky metaphor by combining a couple of interesting images together:

“Long, transparent drifts of vapor wreathed up from the water and reached slow fingers across the narrow shore toward the trees.”

Stewart also uses metaphor to enhance mood. When the heroine and the man she loves meet in a grand salon after a terrible misunderstanding, her lover’s cold silence convinces the heroine she’s lost his love. To her, the chandelier’s light becomes ice:

“The light of the big chandelier dripped icily from its hundred glittering prisms. It fell coldly on the white shrouds that covered the furniture, and struck back from the pale marble of the fireplace . . .” (both excerpts from Nine Coaches Waiting)

Using metaphor as story symbol

In The Big Rock Candy Mountain, Wallace Stegner opens with 20 year-old Elsa on a train. She makes an interesting observation:

“The wires dipped, lifted, dipped, in swift curves like the flight of a swallow. She felt her stomach dipping and lifting with them.”

Stegner shows the image of the dipping and lifting wires three times in his opening, searing the image into the mind of his reader. The swooping wires are in fact a story symbol and a prophetic metaphor for Elsa’s life after she marries the unstable Bo Mason.

 

Robin Archibald lives in Lancaster County, PA. She writes Garden Fiction inspired by her love of the land and the people who work it.

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