Making metaphors and analogies count

Bad analogiesWe’ve been going through a bit of a freak April snow and ice storm in South Dakota this week, and so everyone has been paying attention to the news (and news online, when they couldn’t get TV or when the power was out, like it was for 10 hours for me on Wednesday and 6 hours on Thursday).

The first real day of the storm, when my city had sleet falling all day to coat just about everything, I saw this story on my local news station website. The first sentence caught my immediate ire: “It looks like a war zone right now in the city of Sioux Falls.”

My thoughts: Really? It looks like an actual war zone?

A lot of analogies and metaphors made by TV news reporters and other journalists bother me. Mostly, it’s the ones that are obviously exaggerated. They pick words and phrases that make good sound bites and will catch the most people’s eyes and ears. Every time there’s some big story, they search for the best sounding phrases, analogies and metaphors to help describe it. Some are good, and some aren’t so good. Even The Wall Street Journal had an article that bemoaned the use of bad analogies during the financial crisis our country is going through.

“Is bailing out Wall Street more akin to taking your Grand Am to the mechanic or your grandma to the Mayo Clinic?” the first sentence asks.

Using metaphors and analogies is part of storytelling. Every writer uses them regularly. How else are you supposed to describe things so that your reader will see what you’re seeing in your head and understand what you’re trying to get across?

However, when we use them inappropriately, or use a cliched metaphor, or in any other way that doesn’t truly enhance your story, you end up with a bad analogy or metaphor, or worse, one that’s laughable. There’s tons of web sites and posts out there that highlight many bad metaphors and analogies, including (and these came from just a quick Google search):

Ever Use a A Metaphor, Simile or Analogy? by The Nautical Muse

Bad Metaphors and Worse Similes by

42 Really Bad Analogies, Similes and Metaphors by Socratic Mama.

You can write really good analogies, and a lot of times when you do read a good one, you don’t always notice the phrase or sentence, really, but instead are simply drawn more into the story. Marcy Kennedy has a good post about the power of descriptive writing (the type of writing in which similes, metaphors and analogies live) and also a good post describing all the ways they can go wrong.

All I ask is that you think twice about your metaphors and analogies when you write them. Make them fit in with the story, and don’t make them outrageous.

I'm a lover of writing and books. I graduated from South Dakota State with a master's degree in communications in 2011, the same year I was first published. I'm a wife and mom, and I work in content and digital marketing in South Dakota.

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