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How to Use Metaphors to Engage and Encourage Readers

This guest post is by Elizabeth Joss of Xcellent Media.

“They nailed their stakes into the earth of my life, those farmers. They knew the place in me where the river stopped, and they marked it with a new name. Shantaram Kishan Kharre. I don’t know if they found that name in the heart of the man they believed me to be, or if they planted it there, like a wishing tree, to bloom and grow. Whatever the case, whether they discovered that peace or created it, the truth is that the man I am was born in those moments, as I stood near the flood sticks with my face lifted to the chrismal rain. Shantaram. The better man that, slowly, and much too late, I began to be.”—Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram, p.136-137

The words of Gregory David Roberts fill me with a sense of awe and passion, and at the same time they inspire me to write. His novel, Shantaram, is comprised of moving metaphorical prose that calls readers to action, whether it be to laugh, cry, or to delve deep within themselves.

Metaphorical writing can be used to transport the reader to an imaginary world, all with the unification and comparison of two unrelated objects.

It’s the perfect technique for bloggers wanting to capture readers’ attention—and hold it.

Advantages of metaphors

  • Metaphors add spice to your writing and can make your words sing. They add a layer of richness, making you a better storyteller overall.
  • Metaphors help us relate to a complex world. They help make concepts appear more real and tangible to us and thus we are better able to digest certain concepts (note the metaphor in this sentence too!). They also help us explain complex topics much more effectively to our readers. People will then attach great importance to a topic if they can relate to it through a metaphor.
  • There is a strong visual element to a metaphor, which is what makes it so effective for the reader.
  • Using metaphors can propel the behaviour of your readers and usher them towards action. They are pertinent persuasive devices because they help the reader unlock a part of him or herself and enable a more thorough engagement with the writing and their own imagination.

Metaphor pitfalls

  • Avoid overusing metaphors in your writing, as they can weigh your prose down significantly. A metaphor should give your blog post lasting understanding and clarity. Don’t force metaphors into your writing. Rather, use one extended metaphor throughout a text for a better effect.
  • Steer clear of the cheesy or clichéd metaphors we often use in speech. For example, she was blown away by his words or he cooked up a storm. The metaphor should not bring the reader to a halt while reading—its use should be as natural as possible.
  • Know your audience. Metaphorical language differs from culture to culture but it is nonetheless an important part of societies and of individual cognition. People think metaphorically and they create and organize their world through metaphors. This means that different groups of individuals will have different understandings of metaphors, or even completely different metaphors than others. If you want to write for a certain group of people, be sure to research and understand their metaphor usage.
  • Steer clear of using clichés and of forcing metaphors in your prose, unless you are trying to make a point that is both persuasive and effective.

How to create your own metaphor

Blog posts with metaphorical titles (similes) usually attract a lot of attention. I’m sure you’ve seen articles about why blogging is like dating, going to the gym, or even like The Wizard of Oz. These comparisons usually run through the entire blog post right from the title itself, thus creating an extended metaphor.

Sean Platt’s The Eminem Guide to Becoming a Writing and Marketing Machine is a great example of metaphor. Writing a blog post is likened to Eminem’s storytelling and rapping techniques. This controversial headline is catchy and Sean uses a popular artist to make us identify with his topic right from the outset.

Here are some useful steps to create your own metaphor (extended or ordinary) for use in your next blog post:

  1. Focus on the concept you are trying to explain. For example, you may be informing your readers about the benefits of yoga.
  2. Brainstorm the concept and write down everything that comes into your head, as I’ve done below:

  3. What similar, real-life objects or concepts (must be completely unrelated) embody the points you’ve brainstormed? Make a list of the first few things that come to mind using the free-association technique (where you write spontaneously as things come into your thoughts).

  4. Which one stands out at you the most? Once I had brainstormed the benefits, the pretzel idea immediately stood out at me—its shape is similar to a yogi’s body when performing a twist on the floor! This is appropriate and it adds an element of humour as well. You can almost imagine a yogi as a contortionist or pretzel on the floor.
  5. Does this metaphor make your topic more accessible to your readers? The idea of a yogi as a pretzel may be slightly clichéd but people can relate to it and its humour makes it a winner.

If you are in need of some inspiration, check out Darren’s post, Blogging is Like, for 42 examples of extended metaphor/simile blog posts, none of which are obvious comparisons.

Find your magic within

The above short tips are only guidelines to get you thinking about using comparisons in your writing. The trick is to think out of the box and make analogies that are not so obvious. You can use the above tactics if you are keen to create a metaphorical title. However, it is safe to say that the more you read and write, the more natural your metaphors will be and you won’t even have to think about purposely employing them.

So if you don’t want ideas or blog posts that are half-baked or regurgitated then look to metaphors as your food for thought. Metaphors are exceptionally powerful devices that, when used properly, will knock the socks off your readers. So don’t wait around—conjure up your own marvellous metaphors!

Do you use metaphors in your writing? Or are there other literary devices you are more drawn to?

Elizabeth Joss writes for Xcellent Media, a media and marketing company based in Cape Town, South Africa. She covers topics like social media, SEO, blogging and web marketing. For more great blogging tips by Elizabeth, follow the Xcellent Media blog or add Xcellent Media on Twitter

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Comments

  1. Metaphors are powerful because by transferring the qualities of one object onto another they can enhance an object’s emotional impact by drawing on the reader’s existing thoughts and feelings about the world around them.

    “Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.” – Orson Scott Card

  2. Ehsan says:

    I really impressed with the tip which my friend were using to engage blog readers has been posted on ProBlogger too. I have some posts wit Metaphors on my blog. It is something which makes entertaining headlines.

  3. Linda Adams says:

    I’ve been using metaphors more and more since I read Daniel Pink’s right brain book that suggested recording all the metaphors I ran into while reading over the course of the week. I was greatly surprised to discover how many appeared in the op ed pages, and how great a variety they were. Some were obvious metaphors, while others were simple word changes. Rather than do posts that have a theme that’s a metaphor, I use metaphors within the post. Writing can hold up a lot of metaphors — they just have to be good metaphors that fit in with the flow of the writing.

    • So true Linda. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas and for taking the time out to read my blog post :-) Daniel Pink is awesome – I need to get hold of his book asap!

  4. Anneliz Hannan says:

    Elizabeth, your post has my neurons popping like a sparkler on the Fourth of July. I enjoyed your fun and instructive approach.

  5. Chirag says:

    Well I have never used them.. need to give it a try!

  6. Sachin Verma says:

    Never tried them, surely will use them from now on. :)

  7. This sounds like a good approach to encourage readers to engage on one’s blog. I agree that adding metaphors includes a visual idea to the whole blog post and it can really help communicate the information. I should try this some day. :)

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog post Abdul. Metaphors are indeed visual and can definitely help unlock one’s imagination when describing complex topics.

  8. JC says:

    I just finished reading Shantaram recently. EXCELLENT book!

  9. DesignSkew says:

    Metaphors, sounds great. I just started to make a new post, and this article saved me before I publish. I am searching for more unique metaphoric words, I would make the title and judge it as an ordinary searcher, if it sounds attractive or not.

  10. Anthony says:

    Love this post Elizabeth.
    I like reading blog posts that use an entertaining metaphor, especially when you aren’t too familiar with the topic. However, I’m not so keen when an author tries to use too many metaphor’s. You kind of get lost when this happens. Like you say, extending a metaphor throughout the text is far better.
    Expertly explained and extremely useful. Well done!

  11. Glynis Jolly says:

    I just started using some metaphors lately. I don’t know if they’ll help make me unique on my blog but I can tell you that the writing process is easier because the posts are more like I am in person.

    • Thanks so much for your response Glynis. I completely agree with you on this. I think it’s really important to be oneself in your writing. Have a fantastic day :-)

  12. John Dill says:

    Very cool blog post! I hope more read this and apply it so that I get to see more colorful content in my RSS feeds. Blogging is a journey (First metaphor of the day!)

  13. Marc Ensign says:

    If I were to pull out all of the metaphors and exaggerations from my blog I would be left with nothing but a handful of and’s, the’s and but’s. It definitely makes for a more interesting read and it’s also more fun to write as well!