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Creative writing analogies

Boring Topic? Here’s How to Inject a Dash of Fun (and Personality!)

She has picked a good topic for her next blog post. She’s sure her readers will find it helpful.

But she’s soooo afraid her post will be boring that she can’t start writing. She fears her blog post will be like a bland chicken without salt, without chilies, and without any herbs or spices.

Who’d enjoy eating that?

Hannah would prefer a fiery, fragrant, smoky Jerk chicken.

She gently massages her temples to stave off an upcoming headache, and sips her Jasmine tea, almost burning her tongue. Then she decides to check out her favorite writing blog to learn how to make a boring topic interesting.

Can she inject a dose of creativity?

Analogies add pizzazz to any topic

Analogies make your blog post unique. They help shape your voice and make your writing stand out. They add fun to boring blog posts, and even help explain your topic better. What’s more, they give you an opportunity to tell stories.

The first time I used an analogy in a blog post, I was nervous. Would readers think it was weird? Would they think it was childish? Was I making a fool of myself?

I was tossing and turning at night, and woke up with knots in my stomach. But, I mustered the courage to click Publish.

In that first post featuring an analogy, I compared content marketing with tour leading. For instance:

It’s easy to think of big gestures. A big launch. Your best-ever ebook. A guest post on a major blog.

But small things can make a massive difference, too.

For instance: Giving 14 tourists a pair of cheap chopsticks. Buying a huge watermelon to share. Such cheap treats create a feel-good atmosphere.

In a digital world it’s easy to give away stuff and build a loyal audience. What does it cost you to share your expertise?

Inspire your audience. Share generously.

After that first little success, I became braver, I was finding my voice, and I introduced analogies and metaphors more often in my writing. It helped me connect with readers on more levels. People who love cooking send me emails or leave comments about their favorite food. Readers who love cycling share stories about their cycling adventures.

Analogies give readers a peek into your life, and you can draw your inspiration from many different life experiences such as parenting, gardening, travelling, or sports. Each topic gives you an opportunity to share stories outside your business expertise and to become more human in your writing.

How to use analogies in your blog posts

I’ve used two different structures for blog posts with analogies.

One structure is the circle post, where you introduce the analogy in the opening, ignore it in the main body, and then circle back in the final paragraph. For instance, in my post about writing styles, the introduction explains the concept of umami:

Have you heard of umami?

It’s the 5th taste. (…) It is often translated as a savory taste; and soy sauce, steak, mushrooms, broth, and even some cheese all have umami.

I used to think it was a weird idea. How can mushrooms be similar in taste as a sizzling steak? But once you learn to detect umami, you start to appreciate its tantalizing power.

A good writing style has umami, too. But what is it?

And the final paragraph deepens the analogy:

Umami comes from the Japanese word umai—deliciousness.

Kazu Katoh, a Japanese chef, said about umami: “It’s something that’s kind to the body. (…) It’s about feeling good after eating.”

Isn’t that what we strive for as writers, too?

To write something not just nutritious but also delicious to read … something that lingers in our readers’ minds—like the taste of a mature cheese or a mushroom risotto or a stir-fried beef with ginger, broccoli, and fish sauce.

The circle structure is a neat way to make your post feel finished as you reinforce and add depth to your starting point.

The second option for transforming your post is to write a series of tips, and for each tip expand the analogy. For instance, in my blog post about smooth reading experiences, I compare types of transitional phrases to bicycle maintenance tricks. The first transition trick is a drop of oil:

Just like drops of oil make your bicycle chain move without friction, transitional words make readers glide through your content.

And the last transition trick is an industrial-strength lubricant:

Bicyclists can argue for hours about the best way to keep your bike chain free from rust. Use WD-40. Use Tri-flow. Use light oil. Re-lube more often.

But your content requires a mix of tricks for the smoothest reading experience. And you know the strongest lube to keep your readers hooked? That’s the use of seductive subheads.

Just like we adapt our favorite recipes to our personal tastes, analogies are personal, too. They reveal more about you as a person—what interests you and what you do outside of work.

Analogy examples

For more details, check out the full posts:

  1. The garden analogy in my post on making money from blogging >>
  2. My infamous post about tour leading and content marketing >>
  3. The analogy between traffic blocks for cyclists and website goofs >>
  4. The analogy between smooth cycling and reading experiences >>
  5. The unwelcoming experience in a hotel compared to the experiences of web visitors >>
  6. My post about umami in writing >>
  7. The analogy between 4 types of weak words and bland food >>
  8. The food stories in this post about scrumptious blogging tips >>

Dream up your own analogies

To come up with an analogy, start with giving yourself permission to have fun. Create a sense of play to look for connections between two completely different topics. To make an analogy work, compare things at the same level—a process to a process, or a thing to a thing, or a role to a role.

Boundaries can make us more creative, so consider to focus on one specific domain for your analogy, such as gardening, cooking, travelling, sports, or art. Choose a topic you know well so it’s easier to come up with similarities.

When you try too hard and focus too much, you might get tunnel vision and block your creativity. So, if you’re feeling stuck, get away from your desk or computer. Analogies often pop up in my mind when I’m out on my bike, or when walking in the woods, washing the dishes, or cooking.

Another trick is to think visually. What picture can you draw for a blog post?

Make readers crave for more

In December 2010, I cycled with my husband in Malaysia. We finished our tour in Kuala Lumpur, and we sampled barbecued chicken wings at an outdoor market. We had to go back for more.

Now, almost 10 years later, I still remember those chicken wings. We still talk about them at home. The smokiness, the spiciness, the sweetness, the stickiness. Maybe one day, I’ll go back to Kuala Lumpur, and I hope more chicken wings are waiting for me.

A good analogy can make your writing memorable, too.

Readers will start recognizing your voice, and they’ll crave hearing more.

They’ll be happy when you turn up in their inbox, eagerly clicking to read your next blog post.

The Essential List of 90+ Metaphor Examples in Literature and Pop Culture

What figure of speech is so meta that it forms the very basis of riddles? The answer: a metaphor.

As Milan Kundera wrote in The Unbearable Lightness of Being: “Metaphors are dangerous. Metaphors are not to be trifled with.” Yet, paradoxically, they are an inescapable part of our daily lives — which is why it’s all the more important to understand exactly how they function.

To help, this article has a list of 97 metaphor examples to show you what they look like in the wild. But if you have a moment to spare, let’s learn a bit more about what a metaphor is.

What is a metaphor?

A metaphor is a literary device that imaginatively draws a comparison between two unlike things. It does this by stating that Thing A is Thing B. Through this method of equation, metaphors can help explain concepts and ideas by colorfully linking the unknown to the known; the abstract to the concrete; the incomprehensible to the comprehensible. It can also be a rhetorical device that specifically appeals to our sensibilities as readers.

To give you a starting point, here are some examples of common metaphors:

  • “Bill is an early bird.”
  • “Life is a highway.”
  • “Her eyes were diamonds.”

Note that metaphors are always non-literal. As much as you might like to greet your significant other with a warhammer in hand (“love is a battlefield”) or bring 50 tanks of gasoline every time you go on a date (“love is a journey”), that’s not likely to happen in reality. Another spoiler alert: no, Katy Perry doesn’t literally think that you’re a firework. Rather, these are all instances of metaphors in action.

How does a metaphor differ from a simile?

Simile and metaphor are both figures of speech that draw resemblances between two things. However, the devil’s in the details. Unlike metaphors, similes use like and as to directly create the comparison. “Life is like a box of chocolates,” for instance, is a simile. But if you say, “Life is a highway,” you’re putting a metaphor in motion.

The best way to understand how a metaphor can be used is to see it in practice — luckily, we’ve got a bucket-load of metaphor examples handy for you to peruse.

The Ultimate List of 90+ Metaphor Examples

Metaphors penetrate the entire spectrum of our existence — so we turned to many mediums to dig them up, from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to the Backstreet Boys’ ancient discography. Feel free to skip to your section of interest below for metaphor examples.

Literature

Metaphors in literature are drops of water: as essential as they are ubiquitous. Writers use literary metaphors to evoke an emotional response or paint a vivid picture. Other times, a metaphor might explain a phenomenon. Given the amount of nuance that goes into it, a metaphor example in a text can sometimes deserve as much interpretation as the text itself.

Metaphors can make prose more muscular or imagery more vivid:

1. “Exhaustion is a thin blanket tattered with bullet holes.” ―If Then, Matthew De Abaitua

2. “But it is just two lovers, holding hands and in a hurry to reach their car, their locked hands a starfish leaping through the dark.” ―Rabbit, Run, John Updike

3. “The sun in the west was a drop of burning gold that slid near and nearer the sill of the world.” —Lord of the Flies, William Golding

4. “Bobby Holloway says my imagination is a three-hundred-ring circus. Currently I was in ring two hundred and ninety-nine, with elephants dancing and clowns cart wheeling and tigers leaping through rings of fire. The time had come to step back, leave the main tent, go buy some popcorn and a Coke, bliss out, cool down.” —Seize the Night, Dean Koontz

Writers frequently turn to metaphors to describe people in unexpected ways:

5. “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!” —Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare

6. “Who had they been, all these mothers and sisters and wives? What were they now? Moons, blank and faceless, gleaming with borrowed light, each spinning loyally around a bigger sphere. ‘Invisible,’ said Faith under her breath. Women and girls were so often unseen, forgotten, afterthoughts. Faith herself had used it to good effect, hiding in plain sight and living a double life. But she had been blinded by exactly the same invisibility-of-the-mind, and was only just realizing it.” ―The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge

7. “’I am a shark, Cassie,’ he says slowly, drawing the words out, as if he might be speaking to me for the last time. Looking into my eyes with tears in his, as if he’s seeing me for the last time. “A shark who dreamed he was a man.’” ―The Last Star, Rick Yancey

8. “Her mouth was a fountain of delight.” —The Storm, Kate Chopin

9. “The parents looked upon Matilda in particular as nothing more than a scab. A scab is something you have to put up with until the time comes when you can pick it off and flick it away.” —Matilda, Roald Dahl

10. “Mr. Neck storms into class, a bull chasing thirty-three red flags.” —Speak, Laurie Anderson

11. “’Well, you keep away from her, cause she’s a rattrap if I ever seen one.’” —Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

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Metaphors can help “visualize” a situation or put an event in context:

12. “But now, O Lord, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.” —Isaiah 64:8

13. “He could hear Beatty’s voice. ‘Sit down, Montag. Watch. Delicately, like the petals of a flower. Light the first page, light the second page. Each becomes a black butterfly. Beautiful, eh? Light the third page from the second and so on, chainsmoking, chapter by chapter, all the silly things the words mean, all the false promises, all the second-hand notions and time-worn philosophies.’” —Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

To entertain and tickle the brain, metaphor examples sometimes compare two extremely unlike things:

14. “Delia was an overbearing cake with condescending frosting, and frankly, I was on a diet.” ―Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception, Maggie Stiefvater

15. “The sun was a toddler insistently refusing to go to bed: It was past eight thirty and still light.” —Fault in Our Stars, John Green

16. “If wits were pins, the man would be a veritable hedgehog.” ―Fly by Night, Frances Hardinge

17. “What’s this?” he inquired, none too pleasantly. “A circus?” “No, Julius. It’s the end of the circus.” “I see. And these are the clowns?” Foaly’s head poked through the doorway. “Pardon me for interrupting your extended circus metaphor, but what the hell is that?” ―Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer

18. “Using a metaphor in front of a man as unimaginative as Ridcully was the same as putting a red flag to a bu — the same as putting something very annoying in front of someone who was annoyed by it.” ―Lords and Ladies, Terry Pratchett

Metaphors can help frame abstract concepts in ways that readers can easily grasp:

19. “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.” —Fault In Our Stars, John Green

20. “If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then to me.” —Macbeth, William Shakespeare

21. “Memories are bullets. Some whiz by and only spook you. Others tear you open and leave you in pieces.” ―Kill the Dead, Richard Kadrey

22. “Wishes are thorns, he told himself sharply. They do us no good, just stick into our skin and hurt us.” ―A Face Like Glass, Frances Hardinge

23. “’Life’ wrote a friend of mine, ‘is a public performance on the violin, in which you must learn the instrument as you go along.” ―A Room with a View, E.M. Forster

24. “There was an invisible necklace of nows, stretching out in front of her along the crazy, twisting road, each bead a golden second.” ―Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge

25. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” —As You Like It, William Shakespeare

Poetry

Particularly prominent in the realm of poetry is the extended metaphor: a single metaphor that extends throughout all or part of a piece of work. Also known as a conceit, it is used by poets to develop an idea or concept in great detail over the length of a poem. (And we have some metaphor examples for you below.)

If you’d like to get a sense of the indispensable role that metaphors play in poetry, look no further than what Robert Frost once said: “They are having night schools now, you know, for college graduates. Why? Because they don’t know when they are being fooled by a metaphor. Education by poetry is education by metaphor.”

Poets use metaphors directly in the text to explain emotions and opinions:

26. She must make him happy. She must be his favorite place in Minneapolis. You are a souvenir shop, where he goes to remember how much people miss him when he is gone. —“Unrequited Love Poem,” Sierra DeMulder

27. She is all states, and all princes, I. Nothing else is. Princes do but play us; compared to this, All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy. —“The Sun Rising,” John Donne

28. I watched a girl in a sundress kiss another girl on a park bench, and just as the sunlight spilled perfectly onto both of their hair, I thought to myself: How bravely beautiful it is, that sometimes, the sea wants the city, even when it has been told its entire life it was meant for the shore. —“I Watched A Girl In A Sundress,” Christopher Poindexter

Extended metaphors in particular explore and advance major themes in poems:

29. All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind. Thinking is always the stumbling stone to poetry. A great singer is he who sings our silences. How can you sing if your mouth be filled with food? How shall your hand be raised in blessing if it is filled with gold? They say the nightingale pierces his bosom with a thorn when he sings his love song. —“Sand and Foam,” Khalil Gibran

30. But a BIRD that stalks down his narrow cage / Can seldom see through his bars of rage / His wings are clipped and his feet are tied So he opens his throat to sing. —“Caged Bird,” Maya Angelou

31. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference. —“The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost

32. Marriage is not a house or even a tent it is before that, and colder: the edge of the forest, the edge of the desert the edge of the receding glacier where painfully and with wonder at having survived even this far we are learning to make fire —“Habitation,” Margaret Atwood

33. These poems do not live: it’s a sad diagnosis. They grew their toes and fingers well enough, Their little foreheads bulged with concentration. If they missed out on walking about like people It wasn’t for any lack of mother-love. —“Stillborn,” Sylvia Plath

34. Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul / And sings the tune without the words / And never stops at all. —“Hope Is The Thing With Feathers,” Emily Dickinson

Daily Expressions

Here’s some food for thought (35): you’ve probably already used a metaphor (or more) in your daily speech today without even realizing it. Metaphorical expressions pepper the English language by helping us illustrate and pinpoint exactly what we want to say. As a result, metaphors are everywhere in our common vocabulary: you may even be drowning in a sea (36) of them as we speak. But let’s cut to our list of metaphor examples before we jump the shark (37).

38. Love is a battlefield.

39. You’ve given me something to chew on.

40. He’s just blowing off steam.

41. That is music to my ears.

42. Love is a fine wine.

43. She’s a thorn in my side.

44. You are the light in my life.

45. He has the heart of a lion.

46. Am I talking to a brick wall?

47. He has ants in his pants.

48. Beauty is a fading flower.

49. She has a heart of stone.

50. Fear is a beast that feeds on attention.

51. Life is a journey.

52. He’s a late bloomer.

53. He is a lame duck now.

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Songs

Metaphors are a must-have tool in every lyricist’s toolkit. From Elvis to Beyonce, songwriters use them to instinctively connect listeners to imagery and paint a visual for them. Most of the time, they find new ways to describe people, love — and, of course, break-ups. So if you’re thinking, “This is so sad Alexa play Titanium,” right now, you’re in the right place: here’s a look at some metaphor examples in songs.

54. You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog / Cryin’ all the time —“Hound Dog,” Elvis Presley

55. You’re a fallen star / You’re the getaway car / You’re the line in the sand / When I go too far / You’re the swimming pool / On an August day / And you’re the perfect thing to say — “Everything,” Michael Buble

56. ‘Cause baby you’re a firework / Come on show ’em what your worth / Make ’em go “Oh, oh, oh!” / As you shoot across the sky-y-y — “Firework,” Katy Perry

57. I’m bulletproof nothing to lose / Fire away, fire away / Ricochet, you take your aim / Fire away, fire away / You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium —“Titanium,” David Guetta

58. Life is a highway / I wanna ride it all night long / If you’re going my way / I wanna drive it all night long —“Life Is A Highway,” Rascal Flatts

59. She’s a Saturn with a sunroof / With her brown hair a-blowing / She’s a soft place to land / And a good feeling knowing / She’s a warm conversation —“She’s Everything,” Brad Paisley

60. I’m a marquise diamond / Could even make that Tiffany jealous / You say I give it to you hard / So bad, so bad / Make you never wanna leave / I won’t, I won’t —“Good For You,’ Selena Gomez

61. Remember those walls I built / Well, baby, they’re tumbling down / And they didn’t even put up a fight / They didn’t even make a sound —“Halo,” Beyonce

62. Did I ever tell you you’re my hero? / You’re everything, everything I wish I could be / Oh, and I, I could fly higher than an eagle / For you are the wind beneath my wings / ‘Cause you are the wind beneath my wings —“Wind Beneath My Wings,” Bette Midler

63. You are my fire / The one desire / Believe when I say I want it that way —“I Want It That Way,” Backstreet Boys

64. Your body is a wonderland / Your body is a wonder (I’ll use my hands) / Your body is a wonderland —“Your Body Is A Wonderland,” John Mayer

65. I’m walking on sunshine (Wow!) / I’m walking on sunshine (Wow!) / I’m walking on sunshine (Wow!) / And don’t it feel good —“I’m Walking On Sunshine,” Katrina and the Waves

66. If you wanna be with me / Baby there’s a price to pay / I’m a genie in a bottle / You gotta rub me the right way —“Genie in a Bottle,” Christina Aguilera

67. If God is a DJ, life is a dance floor / Love is the rhythm, you are the music / If God is a DJ, life is a dance floor / You get what you’re given it’s all how you use it —“God Is A DJ,” P!nk

68. If this town / Is just an apple / Then let me take a bite —“Human Nature,” Michael Jackson

69. I just wanna be part of your symphony / Will you hold me tight and not let go? —“Symphony,” Clean Bandit

70. My heart’s a stereo / It beats for you, so listen close / Hear my thoughts in every note —“Stereo Hearts,” Gym Class Heroes

71. I’m the sunshine in your hair / I’m the shadow on the ground / I’m the whisper in the wind / I’m your imaginary friend —“I’m Already There,” Lonestar

Films

Films can add a different angle to the concept of a metaphor: because it’s a visual medium, certain objects on-screen will actually represent whatever the filmmaker intends it to represent. The same principle applies, of course — there’s still a direct comparison being made. It’s just that we can see the metaphor examples with our own eyes now.

Films can visually make clear comparisons between two elements on the screen:

72. “What beautiful blossoms we have this year. But look, this one’s late. I’ll bet that when it blooms it will be the most beautiful of all.” —from Mulan

73. “Love is an open door Can I say something crazy? Will you marry me? Can I say something even crazier? Yes!” —from Frozen

Metaphors are used in dialogue for characters to express themselves:

74. “You’re television incarnate, Diana. Indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy.” —Network

75. “Life’s a climb. But the view is great.” —Hannah Montana: the Movie

Famous Quotations

Did you know that Plato was using metaphors to express his thoughts all the way back in 427 BC? Since then, some of our greatest minds have continued to turn to metaphors when illuminating ideas in front of the general public — a practice that’s become particularly prominent in political speeches and pithy witticisms. Here’s a sample of some of the ways that famous quotes have incorporated metaphor examples in the past.

76. “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.” —Albert Einstein

77. “A good conscience is a continual Christmas.” —Benjamin Franklin

78. “America has tossed its cap over the wall of space.” —John F. Kennedy

79. “I don’t approve of political jokes; I have seen too many of them get elected.” —Jon Stewart

80. “Conscience is a man’s compass.” —Vincent Van Gogh

81. “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” —Albert Camus

82. “Time is the moving image of eternity.” ―Plato

83. “Every human is a school subject. This is rather a metaphorical way of saying it, to put it straight, those you love are few, and the ones you detest are many.” ―Michael Bassey Johnson

84. “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” —Will Rogers

85. “Life is little more than a loan shark: it exacts a very high rate of interest for the few pleasures it concedes.” —Luigi Pirandello

86. “America: in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come.” —Barack Obama

87. “Bolshevism is a ghoul descending from a pile of skulls. It is not a policy; it is a disease. It is not a creed; it is a pestilence.” —Winston Churchill

88. “Books are mirrors of the soul.” —Virginia Woolf

89. “My life has a superb cast, but I can’t figure out the plot.” —Ashleigh Brilliant

90. “I feel like we’re all in a super shitty Escape Room with really obvious clues like, ‘vote’ and ‘believe women’ and ‘don’t put children in cages.’” —Natasha Rothwell

91. “I travel the world, and I’m happy to say that America is still the great melting pot — maybe a chunky stew rather than a melting pot at this point, but you know what I mean.” —Philip Glass

92. “Life is a long road on a short journey.” —James Lendall Basford

93. “What therefore is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms: in short a sum of human relations which become poetically and rhetorically intensified, metamorphosed, adorned, and after long usage seem to a nation fixed, canonic and binding.” —Nietzsche

94. “Life is a foreign language: all men mispronounce it.” —Christopher Morley

95. “Dying is a wild night and a new road.” —Emily Dickinson

96. “And your very flesh shall be a great poem.” —Walt Whitman

And as a bonus gift, here’s one last metaphor for the road, from one of our brightest philosophers. We’ll let Calvin have the last word:

Calvin & Hobbes. Image: Bill Watterson

Did we miss any of your favorite metaphors? Have more metaphor examples for us? Leave them in the (non-metaphorical) box below and we’ll add them right in.

– Originally published on Oct 19, 2018

6 responses

James Hubbs says:

Very useful article. Thank you. However, Fahrenheit 451 was written by Ray Bradbury, not George Orwell.

↪️ Reedsy replied:

Great spot, James! That’s now been fixed. Glad that the article was useful 🙂

That Sylvia Plath quote nailed me. Ouch! Haven’t read it but have to now.

Another metaphor I love is “I’m just like them— an ordinary drone dressed in secrets and lies.” It’s from Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

DAVID COWART says:

life is a highway is Tom Cochrane, not Rascal Flats

↪️ Martin Cavannagh replied:

Rascal Flatts did a cover of the song. We were deciding between the two and decided that “Rascal Flatts” sounded funnier 😀

Comments are currently closed.

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Metaphor Examples for Writers

Ginny Wiehardt wrote about fiction for The Balance Careers. She is an editor, instructor, and award-winning writer with over 15 years of experience.

A metaphor is a literary device writers use to make their writing more evocative. Without going into wordy explanations, a writer can use the figurative language of a metaphor for illustrative purposes or to highlight the similarities between two different ideas, activities, or objects.

A metaphor is made up of two parts, a tenor, which is the subject of the metaphor, and the vehicle, which is the thing that illustrates the metaphor. There are more than a dozen different kinds of metaphors, including absolute, complex, conceptual, conventional, creative, dead, extended, mixed, primary, root, simile, submerged, therapeutic, and visual, that are used in writing to illustrate or symbolize something else.

An example of one of the more expressive metaphors in literature comes from American fiction writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, who once wrote, “All good writing is swimming underwater and holding your breath.” A complex metaphor like this works because it is sensory. Most people know what it feels like to swim underwater while they hold their breath. Even if they are not writers, the metaphor he uses gives a sense of what the process feels like.

Metaphors often get confused with similes. Whereas a metaphor makes a declarative statement that one thing is another thing, a simile uses words “like” or “as” to compare two similar things. The difference is subtle but distinct. For example, if Fitzgerald had written that “good writing is like swimming underwater,” it would be a simile. The other part that can get confusing is that a simile is a type of metaphor, but a metaphor is not always a simile.

Metaphors in Literature and Popular Culture

Perhaps one of the most commonly cited examples of a metaphor in English literature is Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage” monologue from “As You Like It”:

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances. “

One reason this metaphor is effective is that each line contains a separate metaphor, but all come together as part of a single, broader idea—that life itself is like a stage play. Some other examples of metaphors in literature and popular culture include:

  • “You are the sunshine of my life. And if I thought our love was ending, I’d find myself drowning in my own tears.” ​-Stevie Wonder
  • “I finally asked you to dance on the last slow song, beneath the moon that was really a disco ball.” ​-Lady Antebellum
  • “The sky was a purple bruise, the ground was iron, and you fell all around the town until you looked the same.” ​-Elvis Costello
  • “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog.” -Made famous by Elvis Presley, but written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
  • “A hospital bed is a parked taxi with the meter running.” ​-Groucho Marx
  • “Dying is a wild night and a new road.” -Emily Dickinson
  • “Time rises and rises, and when it reaches the level of your eyes you drown.” -Margaret Atwood
  • “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God.” -Mother Teresa
  • “Books are the mirrors of the soul.” -Virginia Woolf

Each of these metaphors works in different ways, but they all force the reader to think about what they mean. Once the reader is able to make a connection to the metaphor, the meaning becomes very clear. Take that last line, for instance. Imagining a mirror that can look into your soul evokes a powerful image of the impact books can have.

Mixed and Extended Metaphors

Like most literary devices, metaphors can be ineffective when misused. They end up either confusing the reader or drawing attention to the author’s lack of skill. A mixed metaphor moves from one reference to a second, unrelated, or inconsistent thing.

For example, in the statement “Our keyboard will teach your mind’s eye to play by ear,” the speaker has mixed two metaphors, leading to nonsense.

However, there are some instances when mixed metaphors work despite themselves somehow. In his song “Little Red Corvette,” Prince, a songwriter known for his sexually-charged lyrics, compares the proclivities of a paramour to a fast car and mixes in a metaphor about the use of contraceptives.

“I guess I should’ve known by the way you parked your car sideways, that it wouldn’t last,” he sings, before mixing in another metaphor with the line, “See, you’re the kinda person that believes in makin’ out once—love ’em and leave ’em fast. I guess I must be dumb ‘cuz you had a pocket full of horses, Trojan and some of them used.”

The latter part of that verse is a mixed metaphor that then becomes an extended metaphor later in the song when Prince references his paramour’s past lovers. “I guess I should’ve closed my eyes when you drove me to the place where your horses run free. ‘Cause I felt a little ill when I saw all the pictures of the jockeys that were there before me.”

Cliched Metaphors to Avoid

As you can see, you don’t have to look very far to find examples of metaphors. We hear and use various common expressions and cliches every day that are metaphors:

  • It’s raining cats and dogs.
  • I’m visiting an old flame.
  • He’s a loose cannon.
  • She found herself behind the eight ball.
  • He drives me up a wall.
  • She saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

Although these are all are good examples of what metaphors are and how they can effectively express thoughts or ideas, they represent the sort of cliches—or dead metaphors—that should be avoided in writing. Metaphors are most effective when they are original and help readers envision complex feelings or actions in ways they never have.