How to save money on copy editing #5: Metaphors - know what you're doing

editing steps in the writing process

Satisfaction = a well-placed, well-timed, appropriate metaphor.

Aristotle thought so. 'The greatest thing by far,' he said in the Poetics (330 BC), 'is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblance.'

Think Tim Winton's 'white-anting'. (Now in the dictionary. You know you've made it when you get a word in the dictionary. I'm aiming for collaborwriting to be mine. Go forth and use it, folks!)

Think 'building bridges'. Such a nice use of the built landscape to suggest a framework for two sides meeting between somewhere in the middle.

Think Cleaver Greene on last week’s final episode of Rake (ABCTV). The audience was fully set up to hear that the person needed, ‘a kick up the arse’. Instead we heard that they really needed a size 9 1/2 Blunnie up the clacker.

Crass, yet very funny.

It worked because it was a fresh take on a tired metaphor. If Aristotle was right and an eye for resemblance does matter, this new take on the old worked times two – once, because the idea of getting kicked up the butt is not nice at all and two – because the writers took the idea further and Australianised it just for us.

Often worn-out metaphors are the first things that pop into our heads. That’s fine. It doesn’t mean they need to make it onto the page. And if they make it to the page, we can always swap them before we press ‘print’.

More than one metaphor in a sentence becomes Cliché Central. Think ‘Moving forward the low-hanging fruit is, without doubt, a minefield.’ Does anyone know what that sentence means?

Sometimes metaphors are deliberately used to obfuscate. For this reason alone, if you’re aiming to communicate clearly, avoid them like the plague. (Ahem.)

It’s worth mucking around with them, playing with words to come up with your own. At very least you’ll entertain yourself, at best you’ll make something worth sharing. When I first started writing my novel, I came up with a real doozy that my writing class had the compassion to honour at the time. (Thank you.)

“It was one of those days where the fog not so much lies, but perches like a fat arse on a lumpy bed and stays because it has nowhere else to go.”

At the time I was very proud of this one. I can see now that it’s a touch over-written, but at least I had a go. And it’s nothing if not fresh.

May your words pour onto the page,


Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash.