I recently reviewed an essay that had so many metaphors in one sentence, I suffered from image-overload. As the pictures floated, clashed, and overlapped in my mind’s eye, I struggled to understand the writer’s point. I alternated between a headache from the conflicting images and side-splitting laughter because the combination occasionally was quite funny. Those metaphors failed, however, as tools of communication; they simply confused and distracted me.
The next day I spoke with a friend who raved about a speaker who powerfully used "the fourth wall," a concept from the theater, as a metaphor for her relationship with those around her. The listener was able to repeat the main points from the speech with no difficulty because that image made the speech visual and memorable (no PowerPoint). Furthermore, the metaphor provided the speaker with an anchor and structure for her entire speech. Clearly the metaphor assisted both the listener and the speaker.
An effective metaphor can serve as a foundation and frame for your essay, allowing the reader to visualize or experience your theme – a major achievement if you are dealing with an intangible topic, as most of you do.
A few key tips for using metaphors:
- Less is more. Don’t overdo it.
- Keep them simple, few, and consistent.
- Make sure they illustrate the point you are trying to make.
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