Don’t try to figure out which man my title refers to — it’s simply a “figure of speech” I used to introduce you to today’s topic . . . Figures of Speech, which are a great way to enhance your writing.
A metaphor is one of the most powerful figures of speech writers can use. Why? Because it engages both sides of the reader’s brain, making it more appeal to a broader spectrum of learning types. The reader’s right brain sees the mental image first while the left side analyzes the comparison between (in the case of this post’s title) man and pig. Engaging both sides of the brain makes metaphors memorable, which is one reason why so many have become clichés. Because clichés are worn-out phrases, they don’t require the extra processing in the mind of readers that fresh phrases need, so the metaphor loses its oomph.
You don’t have to venture very deep into a Raymond Chandler novel to find figures of speech. He used them frequently and well. My personal favorite simile of his is from a scene where protagonist Phillip Marlowe first encounters a woman attempting to seduce him. Marlowe tells the reader, “Her legs had more tone than a lyric poem.”
What’s the difference between Metaphors and Similes?
Some people confuse metaphors and similes. Similes use comparison words – as, than, and like. They are fairly easy to spot. (Metaphors leave off the comparison words.) For example: “He is a pig!” is a metaphor. “She is like a pig” is a simile.
(This post from the Metaphorically Speaking series on Copyblogger has some great information about the differences.)
Here are some examples of similes:
“As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.” – ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Clement Clarke Moore)
“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts” – The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler)
“I got the drunk up [the stairs] somehow. He was eager to help but his legs were rubber . . . ” (Raymond Chandler)
“All the world’s a stage.” (William Shakespeare)
Tips for Using Figures of Speech
When using figures of speech, be careful to keep them in character. What do I mean by that?
Here’s an example:
“My heart pounded against my chest with the same insistency as a Fuller Brush salesman with an impossible sales quota banging on a door.”
That line was scrapped from a novel I’m writing. Why? It describes a startled character. BUT . . . my character is NOT a sales rep, therefore, she wouldn’t readily identify with the anxiety and stress associated with meeting an impossible sales quota. (Not to mention that the novel is a contemporary and door-to-door salesmen are nearly obsolete these days.)
I had to re-write the description to describe my character’s emotions in a manner consistent with her life. Since she is a sports photographer, she would think along the lines of athletes, not Fuller Brush salesmen. So my final choice fits better in her setting:
“My heart pounds against my chest with the same force as a linebacker smashing into a tackle dummy.”
That phrase might not work to describe some women, but since the reader knows my character is a sports photographer, it makes sense. Any phrase that doesn’t “fit” can pull the reader from “sotry world,” which is a bad, bad thing!
Another tip, again from Chandler, is using figures of speech to foreshadow. For instance, he refers to a man’s hair as “bone white,” with the word “bone” foreshadowing a string of murders.
Invent fresh figures of speech that are in character with your story, and sprinkle figures of speech sparingly (Think: Cayenne pepper).
Flip through the pages of a book or two – classic or contemporary or from your own work – and find at least five figures of speech. Do they fit the character and setting? Are they cliched phrases? Do they serve a secondary purpose (such as foreshadowing)? Please share your results in the comments area or in the forum.