Writing Tip — Why I Love Figurative Language

light-bulbw-1246043_1280I added figurative language to my theme of poetry for this month because good figurative language is a poetry of its own. Figurative language draws me into a story like no other literary device. If an author comes up with a simile so perfect that I can instantly imagine it, or if he uses personification in such a funny way that I burst out laughing, he’s hooked me. I’ll keep reading in the hope I will find more literary treasures.

Because I enjoy reading figurative language so much, I love working it into my own writing. The more I’ve written, the more I realize how critical crafting original yet relatable phrases is to my storytelling and to connecting with readers.

Here are three reasons why I love figurative language.

Replacing adverbs

Pity the poor adverb. For years, he thought he was a respectable member of the English language, and now suddenly, he’s barred from all professional writing like he’s a paroled felon. The only people who give him work are elementary school teachers during grammar lessons and high schoolers writing their first novels.

As much as I wish I could use adverbs regularly, (HA! Slipped in another one) the ban on them has forced me to develop my skills at concocting figurative language.

In my upcoming short story, “A Rose from the Ashes”, the main characters is speaking with the county sheriff during a church dinner. The sheriff has volume control problems. But I can’t write “The sheriff said loudly.” So I came up with “I sat back. His baritone was pretty powerful for just one-on-one conversation, but sometimes he seemed to forget he was indoors and not issuing orders to deputies at a busy intersection.”

It’s much longer, but it’s more colorful and also shows how the main character perceives the sheriff.

And speaking of characters …

Building characters

To keep my readers in the head of my main character, I create figurative language appropriate for him or her. The main character in “A Rose from the Ashes” is Rae Riley, a nineteen-year-old amateur photographer. Her hobby influences her perception. She describes the harsh overhead lighting at the library where she works : “Why did every public place have to be lit like an operating room? Nobody needed to see the lint in the carpet or the bumps in the drywall.”

The figurative language does double duty. It lets the reader imagine the scene and get to know Rae a little better.

Adding humor

If a story can handle humor, I say put it in. Figurative language is a wonderful, and often easy, way to add it.

In the short story “Elk Magic”, Patrick F. McManus takes the idiom “beside ourselves” and twists it. As he travels into the Colorado mountains for an elk hunt, he rides in the cab of a truck with hunting guide Paul and fellow hunter Russ. “On several occasions, both Russ and I were beside ourselves with excitement, which made for a pretty crowded pickup cab.”

Readers understand the excitement of the hunters, and a well-worn phrase is given new life.

What are some memorable lines of figurative language you’ve read or written?


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