March 31st, 2012

Use a metaphor as truth

So here I begin, using a simile to introduce a list of aphorisms which are are really metaphors.  But words are a writer’s game, and playing with words can make a great prompt!  (And there’s another metaphor.)

I caught myself listening to myself making conversation the other day and being self-conscious about how often I used metaphors and similes (and loads of the other schemes and tropes of figures of speech:  if you want to entertain yourself further, see ) to get my point across (across what?  the point of a pencil? the tip of my tongue?).

I tried to stop.  I stuttered.  I finally realized it’s just a conversation, silly, just use the rich language of metaphor and keep the ball rolling (a green ball? a basketball?  how big is it?)

You may be getting my drift by now (a snow drift?  sand?  how deep?)

We take these phrases for granted, sprinkle them in our speech and use them wryly (or seriously) in our writing, when we use them at all, since we are good little writers and avoid cliches and overused aphorisms.  Yet all of these came about for good reason: they are used to tap into shared experience and collective imagination to call forth a mood or colorfully describe something, in a far more evocative way than regular old everyday language.

Today I am asking you to take them seriously.  Very seriously.  DO NOT use these as metaphors or similes.  Use them REAL – ly.  What happens to someone if they actually have a bee in their bonnet?  If they actually are between the devil and the deep blue sea?  I append the full list below, but for those of you who prefer a game of chance (literally), print them out and cut them up so you can pull from phrases at random.


So here’s a question: does using a metaphor as truth automatically make it a pun?

Finally, is it weird that many of these would make really good plotpoints in a horror movie screenplay?

acid test
ants in his pants
another nail in the coffin
an axe to grind
bee in your bonnet
better the devil you know
to bite the dust
to dice with death
to eat one’s words
to have feet of clay
to put your foot in your mouth
a baptism of fire
blood is thicker than water
open a can of worms
costs an arm and a leg
to keep the wolf from the door
to drink like a fish
not enough room to swing a cat
keep your ear to the ground
to hit the jackpot
you’ll be the death of me
to mend fences
to have a finger in every pie
to give up the ghost
to go on a wild goose chase
to get in each other’s hair
to live in an ivory tower
to keep your head above water
to leave no stone unturned
to go out on a limb
to make a mountain out of a molehill
to cast pearls before swine
to have skeletons in the cupboard
to split hairs
to swallow hook, line and sinker
the writing on the wall
get your ducks in a row
it stinks to high heaven
a frog in the throat
to burst someone’s bubble

You may come out of this exercise with a brand new appreciation of a few tired old phrases!

One Response to “Writing Prompt: Using Metaphor as Truth”

  1. admin says:

    So glad you posted this. Gives me a chance to use the prompt again!
    Barbara Mayfield