Why are Metaphors Important in Writing?
It is simple and complicated at the same time. Never underestimate the effect of a good metaphorical art on the reader. No matter what type of writing the author engages in – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or even a blog – it is almost a guarantee that it will contain effective metaphor practice of one kind or another. There are plenty of therapeutic metaphors. What do metaphors do for the reader? It takes otherwise ordinary writing and makes it far more colorful and engaging. It can also have psychological health benefits in terms of working with metaphor in therapy.
For instance, the book Metaphor Therapy: Using Client- Generated Metaphors in Psychotherapy by Richard Kopp discusses metaphor in psychotherapy. There are metaphors for anxiety attacks as well as acceptance and commitment therapy metaphors.
What Is the Purpose of Using a Metaphor?
The purpose of metaphors in poetry is to capture the imagination, and visual metaphors in advertising are also effective. Authors know why metaphors are so important in writing, but less is known about why they have such power. Fortunately, researchers in the past few years have begun to uncover the reasons why are metaphors effective.
So what effect does a metaphor have?
Beyond being a mere literary technique, working with metaphor creates a significant psychological effect of metaphor on reader.
On a basic level, metaphors compare two ideas that at first do not appear to be connected in any way:
But if you take a second look, you will recognize that these expressions take complex ideas (the world, love, justice) and compare them to ideas that are easy to imagine (the stage, rollercoasters, wheels slowly cranking). Of course, not every metaphor does this (i.e., "Her eyes were fireflies" involves combining two concrete ideas). However, the most effective metaphors generally connect a more mysterious idea with one that is clear. The reason is that the reader has a better understanding about something that they might not otherwise comprehend.
Plenty of Metaphors in "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell
Furthermore, the legendary horror author Stephen King has discussed the way in which he is able to use metaphors to enhance the meaning of his stories and allow the reader to rediscover old concepts in new ways. In this sense, King sees metaphors as a "miracle" that creates a connection between the writer and reader. This is clearly true.
Metaphors also achieve their purpose and effect by reminding the writer to follow the rule of "show, don't tell." For instance, in King's novel Misery, the main protagonist and author Paul gets into a car accident that almost kills him, only to be rescued by Annie, who turns out to be a crazed fan of his work. At one stage, she refuses to give him water and food, and she withholds medication for his broken legs. Thus he has to deal with intense pain, hunger and thirst all at once. In order to illustrate this to the reader, King uses the metaphor of a horse race, with Pain, Thirst, and Hunger representing the horses that are jockeying for first place. This is far more effective than merely writing about Paul's various suffering.
It should be noted, however, that the purpose of metaphors extends beyond comprehension and demonstration; they actually create an unconscious effect on the reader. A study by Thibodeau and Boroditsky best explains this. Their research involved a group of subjects reading about a crime-filled city in which the perpetrators were compared to beasts preying upon innocents (an animal metaphor). A second group is given the same story, but this time the crime is compared to a plague (a disease metaphor). Afterwards, the subjects were asked to provide solutions to the crime. The first group suggested ideas connected to law enforcement and criminal justice. The second group suggested identifying the reason for the crime and finding economic-related ways to solve it, akin to treatment of the disease.
Based on the findings, it could be seen that by changing the metaphor, the reader had an entirely different perception about the crime problem. The beast comparison meant control was necessary while the disease comparison brought about thoughts of treating the problem. In other words, metaphors allow the writer to decide how the reader should perceive a situation.
Now you have a better understanding of the metaphor purpose and effect. Nonetheless, it is important to realize that some metaphors are better than others. There are plenty of great metaphors out that there really enhance our enjoyment of a story. At the same time, there are others that bomb.
Why Metaphors are so Attractive?
When working with a metaphor, there are obviously endless possibilities when it comes to comparing concepts. So what is a good sign of a metaphor?
The key is to begin with your target idea (i.e., sleep) and figure out the element that you want to discuss (i.e., it can be heavy, restful or characterized by insomnia; it is something you can slide or collapse into). As soon as you pick the element (collapse into), you can brainstorm and think of other things that share this element, such as an old barn or a bridge.