Writer’s often use expressions to convey meanings or show comparison between two things. Words and language can be used figuratively or literally. Figurative language can be a powerful tool the writer draws upon to evoke images in the mind of the reader. Writers often use figurative language in comparing two things which are unrelated, unnatural and uncommon so it sticks with the reader.
Writers use metaphors and similes in their work, not only to enrich their writing, but to help the reader view things in a new light. This is two forms of figurative language.
Similes show the reader how one thing is like another or as another.
E.M. Forster once compared a suspicious man to a rabbit. In the line, “Here he stopped again, and glanced suspiciously to right and left, like a rabbit that is going to bolt into its hole.”
Reading this line probably gives you the image of a nervous man who’s scared of getting caught. My vision is a small, jittery man.
Metaphors make a comparison of sorts but without using the words like or as. E.B. White wrote: “The days ahead unroll in the mind, a scroll of blessed events in the garden and the barn.”
White invokes the image of calmness; days will flow and unroll like a scroll lain out on the floor and allowed to roll itself open.
There can be two hazards in using figurative language. One is the cliché, which we all know is an over used comparison that has become common to every day language. Common clichés are:
“happy as a lark, stubborn as a mule, good as gold, long in the tooth.”
Sometimes these can be used well, but the overuse of clichés in your writing without a definite purpose, can annoy the reader.
The other hazard is called a mixed metaphor. A mixed metaphor rarely reads well. The example I found compared a car to a spoiled child. The first sentence is a mixed metaphor and goes overboard.
“His car was a spoiled child, drowning him in the waves of its demands.”
Very few writers can pull off a mixed metaphor that way.
A better use of the metaphor is:
“His car was a spoiled child, eternally whining for his attention.”
Another comparison used in figurative language is personification. Personification is attributing human qualities to objects or ideas:
“The lake beckoned me.”
“The flowers danced.”
“Darkness crept over me.”
“The waves of the ocean dared me.”
Obviously lakes can’t beckon, flowers can’t dance, darkness can’t creep and waves can’t dare, but using personification gives a more vivid image and often stirs emotion in the reader.
If you use figurative language in your writing be sure it conveys the message intended and reads well into the material.