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Home » Archives » September 2006 » What's an analogy like?
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09/07/2006: What's an analogy like?

Hello, Gentle Readers! I have to tell you, I've been wracking my tiny brain, trying to come up with more to say about writing using metaphors and analogies. I talked about it a while back, and Ingrid from Germany has asked me to say more on the topic. I haven't, until now, simply because I couldn’t think of more to say.

What I said so far was that analogies can be useful both in stage directions and in dialogue. In stage directions they allow you to economically and often humorously capture the effect you want. Something like:

As Gloria enters the party, the sea of guests parts for her as if she were an ocean liner.

And in dialogue, they can quickly give a quirky touch to any character, and they allow the audience a peek into the character's mental process. Here is the sort of thing a character might say, employing a common metaphor:

It's like, no matter how high I climb on the career ladder, the only view I get is of the bottom of the next person up.

What more, I wondered, could I possibly say? Ingrid wanted to know, in particular, about how to train oneself to think in terms of metaphor. Hmm. I guess… look at stuff and think about how it's like other stuff? I was stumped.

But, upon more thought, I remembered that I know a lot more about metaphor and analogy than just that! Notice that in both these examples, something complex is described in terms of something simple and concrete. That's how metaphor works. Metaphor exists to allow us to conceptualize complex things in a simpler way. The movement of a crowd at a party is complex… so many separate individuals with their own motions. But the image of the ship cutting through the sea is visually simple.

And career advancement being mapped as upward movement, specifically as movement on a ladder? Again, complexity becomes simple, physical, concrete.

If you find yourself wanting to employ metaphor in your writing, and you feel that it's not coming naturally to you, look for moments where you're struggling with the complexity of what you want to say. Is there a mapping you can construct such that the complex situation can be understood in terms of a simpler one? If so, it might be a good moment for a metaphor.

Here's another example. A character talking about how angry they are might easily sound boring if they just say "God! I’m so angry!" You want to know how it FEELS. But how do you do that? Wouldn't it be clearer if that emotion were somehow understandable as a physical object?

God! I'm so angry you could see it on a MRI!

Hmm. The notion of anger as a sort of mass inside you. That's physical, understandable, and a bit quirky.

Metaphors. Making the complex simple. Buy some today.

Lunch: I was home sick today, eating grocery store sushi. Not too bad. Feeling better.


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