Why are Metaphors Both Awesome and Terrible?

Miss Metaphor! Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Miss Metaphor! Image from Wikipedia Commons.

One dreadful  inspiring morning at a writing seminar long ago, I emerged from a face-to-face editor session feeling as though I were stepping out the door and onto a parade float. For a few minutes, I could have sworn I was wearing a pageant gown, a tiara, and a ribbon sash proclaiming I was Miss Metaphor, and not in a good way.

Said editor had reviewed the first pages of my first novel and practically stamped that lofty title *Miss Metaphor* on my chest.

I emerged from the room fluttering a weak little Miss America wave at the other terrified aspiring writers awaiting their turns at the chopping block.

That experience caused me to

  • Greatly revise my manuscript, and
  • Wonder why metaphors are both awesome and terrible

With a little research, I found a true Metaphor Devotee — Italian semiotician, literary critic, and novelist Emberto Eco, who said, “…metaphor gives birth to pleasure (in writing).”

He claims that knowing how to conceive metaphors is an art.

I agree.

Metaphors, and their cousins – simile, hyperbole, allegory – add punch to pallid writing. They enlighten and freshen dull manuscripts.

Too Many Metaphors

Some writers (Jodi Lea Stewart in the past, for example) are addicted to figurative language. Consider the following paragraph, and yes, I wrote it myself, and furthermore, it was easy because I could almost live inside a metaphor but that’s another story, n’est-ce pas?

The female fire hazard blazed her way into the board meeting – bull nostrils flaring, poblano pepper eyes glowing – and roared at the Sovereign Power himself, “Give me back my job or I’ll torch your underwear from the inside out!”

Thirty-nine words, twenty-one of which indicate some kind of metaphor.

That’s overkill.

Writers who use metaphors to that extent might want to hook up with a 12-step Metaphors Anonymous program sooner versus later. Over metaphorizing *I made that up to add interest* dulls out the reader almost as much as the writer who doesn’t use figurative language at all.

Too Few Metaphors

If Elements of Style by Strunk & White makes you salivate,

If you love stringent grammar rules and feel it is a crime to alter them,

If you use symbolic language ultra-sparingly, or not at all,

If you wallow in strict English correctness,

Stop reading this blog.

Grab your Elements of Style and repertoire of grammar books and take a nap with them because you’re boring us all to death  with your writing. Sleep. Just sleep.

However, if you are boring even yourself, and you are often told by readers, agents, or editors that your writing lacks color, excitement, or imagination, then I have a suggestion for you.

Run, don’t walk, to buy Arthur Plotnik’s Spunk & Bite. Read it under the covers with a flashlight if you must, but read it without delay.

Plotnik, a self-defined, writing-rule-rebel said,”Both Strunk and White knew well that bending the rules…can give writing its distinction, its edge, its very style. Bending the rules can spring writers from ruts – get them out of themselves, out of the ordinary, and into prose that comes alive, gets noticed, and gets published.”

Strike the Balance

A sassy blend of metaphor mixed with essential writing rules will let you stand proud on that Miss *Mr?* Metaphor float, or anywhere else. Just as a superb pageant contestant is lovely, well-rounded, and interesting, so is the kind of writing that stands out from the crowd.

“Metaphor is the supreme figure of all…connecting notions and finding similitude in things dissimilar.” – Umberto Eco

What about you? Have you been guilty of too much flowery writing? Did anybody ever tell you to stop? Maybe you abhor metaphors, simile, hyperbole and the like. Tell us about it. We love to hear from you!

When writers share, we just get better.

That dame saw me borrow unauthorized social media. Maybe I can dart under the table...

That dame saw me use unauthorized social media. Maybe I can duck under the table before she calls the coppers.

Pssst! – All media used in my blogs are either acquired by payment for their use, or don’t require licensing for public use. Often, I use my own personal photos. Please play it safe and don’t recycle images, okay? (P.S. This one of Henry Fonda is free for all. Borrow like crazy if you want!)


Feel free to wander around my website. It's guaranteed non-toxic.

If you like Sassy, Danger and Mystery, you'll love my any-age novels. Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves: SUMMER OF THE ANCIENT and Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves: CANYON OF DOOM are available at your nearest Barnes & Noble Bookseller, on this website, Amazon, B&N.com and more. For your convenience, it’s also available on Kindlethe Nook and most other eBook readers.

Book Three of the Silki trilogy, VALLEY OF SHADOWS, launches fall 2016. Here's a quick synopsis:

Bummed that yet another summer has passed all too quickly, Silki and her best friend Birdie head out for one last hurrah at the Navajo Nation Fair. When the fun is overshadowed by the theft of a famous horse, Silki is plunged into a baffling adventure teeming with international undercurrents and intrigue. What’s more, boy-crazy Birdie is fluttering her eyelashes at Silki’s good-looking, visiting cousin at every turn, and Rez legend Old Man Concho is coughing up secrets dating back to 1942. What possible connection could he have to the Japanese tourists, and will Silki discover an ancient truth about the Valley of Shadows in time to save Lava, the leader of the Ghost Herd, as well as salvage her own broken heart?

Meet my CANYON OF DOOM AND VALLEY OF SHADOWS illustrator, the Drawing Hands.

Jodi Lea Stewart was born in Texas and grew up in Apache County on a cattle ranch near Concho, Arizona. She left the University of Arizona in Tucson to move to San Francisco, where she learned about peace, love and exactly what she didn't want to do with her life. Since then, Jodi graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Business Management, raised two children, worked as an electro-mechanical drafter, penned humor columns for a college periodical, wrote regional western articles and served as managing editor of a Fortune company newsletter. She currently resides in Texas and New Mexico with her husband, two Standard poodles, two rescue cats and numerous gigantic, bossy houseplants. SUMMER OF THE ANCIENT is Jodi's debut novel and Book One of the Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves trilogy. CANYON OF DOOM came next, and VALLEY OF SHADOWS hits the shelves summer of 2016, completing this exciting and fun adventure-mystery set in the Navajo Nation. Next on the horizon? A historical mystery novel set in the 1930s told through the eyes of a sharecropper's daughter.

2 thoughts on “Why are Metaphors Both Awesome and Terrible?

  1. Barbara Forte Abate

    Jeezaloo, but you had me hooked at METAPHOR! How I love metaphor! Love, love, love…um, yeah, to the point of potential overdose.

    As with your brave example, I was–and sometimes still am–very prone to going wildly overboard into the sea of metaphor. My agent insisted early on that I curb my obsession, and it continues to be a work in progress, But what can I say, I am a recovering addict, as in, I love the graceful curve of a well-turned metaphor!

    Another beauty of a post, Jodi! And I’m definitely going to grab up a copy of Arthur Plotnik’s Spunk & Bite. Sounds like a fine read on a chill–almost spring night 😀


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.