Writing Challenge #16: Organic Metaphors

When I was younger, I used similes and metaphors whenever they occurred to me. I’d prop up the story with elaborate, supposedly literary comparisons.

Then I learned the importance of such language being organic. A metaphor has to grow out of the character’s frame of reference. A carpenter can say something insightful about nails and wood, but can’t convincingly wax poetic about making soup–unless you have built in the fact that he likes to cook. In other words, a character needs to own the simile or metaphor. It needs to spring from his or her personality.

If a piece of language is not organic to the character (or the narrator), it’ll sound false. So take it out. If you really love the way it sounds, save that phrase to use in another piece or use it about another character.

Here’s today’s challenge. Pick one of your characters, preferably a minor one. This is a great way to flesh out one of those still-wooden bit players. What is this person’s occupation or  major hobby?

Now, come up with five similes or metaphors that relate to that profession or interest. Here’s an example. A cook could think the fog is as dense as fruitcake. Or the hand-holding teens in the coffeeshop are way too sweet. Pleasing one’s father with a birthday gift might be as satisfying as getting a souffle to the table at the right moment. You get the idea.

Once you have your five organic sentences, see if you can find a way to use them when that character appears on the page. If not, keep them in reserve. You at least now know more about how that character views the world.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Fiction, Writing, Writing Challenge and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Writing Challenge #16: Organic Metaphors

  1. Lynne Ayers says:

    Interesting insights into the world of writing – thank you.

  2. Emma Burcart says:

    What a great challenge! I love it. I’m going to try it out today. Thanks for the assignment. 🙂

  3. jmmcdowell says:

    That’s a great exercise. Although, I have to trim back on the minor characters in one WIP. I’ve given them too much personality for their roles….

  4. susielindau says:

    Love the exercise! Thanks!

  5. NatalieNoel says:

    That’s cool! Definitely an entertaining post, and it’s given me something to try 🙂

  6. 4amWriter says:

    This exercise is right up my alley. I love metaphors, similes, and other literary devices. I like to think I’m ‘okay’ in pulling them off, but then I read someone amazing like Alice Hoffman, and I realize how much I have to learn/grow. Thanks for sharing this, I’ll have fun with it.

    • So glad, Kathryn! I love them too. It was pretty wonderful (and hilarious) to look at my old attempts at these devices in my stories from middle school and high school.

  7. Pingback: Writing Challenge #17: Cutting Back on Minor Characters | Laura Stanfill

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