Metaphors (and similes) are great and I love them. Sometimes, I think they can be a bit tricky for writers. There are some things that I have been noticing lately in my beta reading.
I want to start this article off by saying — these are only my thoughts and not a real critique or expert advice. These are mostly stylistic pet peeves. If you disagree, tell me. I would love to hear your opinions. I want your opinions.
At times, writers over use metaphor in their descriptions. There are times when metaphor can really color point of view but there are also times when I think, “Get on with it.”
If a whole paragraph is one metaphor after another, I get bored. Just show me what is, not what it’s like.
I’ve even experienced a time or two when the metaphors have become so cumbersome that I forgot what the writer is talking about.
I want to point out that I have seen amazing use of metaphor in setting description. But, in most cases, one or two metaphors is enough. More doesn’t always mean better.
Another one is when the protagonist is over-using metaphor while experiencing intense emotion.
Personally, I’m a bigger fan of the physical sensations associated with emotion getting mixed in, instead of one metaphor after another. Metaphors can work well here; the problem is when every moment of intense emotion turns into a rant chalk full of metaphors. It comes off melodramatic and whiny for me. I’m not sure if I’m alone in this.
Less is more, in my opinion.
The times that I really think that a metaphor works are times when a character is expressing it to someone in the story or it’s something that they had never experienced before.
When a writer uses a metaphor that breaks the character voice.
This one is a bit more difficult to pinpoint but I know it when I see it.
And I run into this problem personally when I’m writing at times. Sometimes, I really like a metaphor that I’ve thought of and stick it in the story. When I go back and read it later though, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Characters have a certain way of speaking and metaphors can really give insight into their inner world and psychology. When a metaphor doesn’t fit the character’s personality. I notice it as a reader.
Another one is during a fast paced action scene or a romantic interaction.
Metaphors work for describing things that are foreign. For moments that are suspenseful. For making note of a setting.
If most of the scene is comprised of metaphor though it pulls me out of the action. I start focusing on all of the metaphors. And I also start wondering if the writer did their homework or developed the relationship enough.
Sometimes too many metaphors make me feel like a scene is underdeveloped.
For me the best metaphors are one of two things:
- So seamless that I don’t notice them but they have an effect on me later.
- They are so great that they become a quote that I use later.
There is a huge gulf between the two for me but as I said before these are only my preferences. I would love to hear from others on this subject… I feel like it’s a hard one.