Tips for Figurative Speech



Tips for Figurative Speech for Descriptive Writing

We strengthen our writing by using descriptive details that develop the topic; and
enhance with metaphors, similes, and comparisons, known as figures of speech. Today, let’s name figures of speech and consider how to use them in our writing.

We define a figure of speech as any intentional deviation from a literal statement or from common usage that emphasizes, clarifies, or embellishes. Poets use figurative language somewhat naturally. An associate of mine finds more insight into connections in poetry than I do.

What can we do to expand our repertoire to incorporate figures of speech in our writing if it does not come easy? Let’s review a few and get ideas popping.

Metaphors, similes, hyperbole, paradox, analogy, allegory, and symbols are a sampling, and are defined by Merriam-Webster’s below, with added comments. Strunk and White caution writers to use figures of speech sparingly, and always give the reader a chance to recognize comparisons before moving on to another.

Metaphors: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another, suggesting a likeness between them. It’s an imaginative transfer from one thing carried over to another. It’s an intuitive perception of similarity from items that are not.

Similes: a figure of speech comparing two unlike things, often introduced by like or as. It not only makes a definite comparison but explains it with simplicity.

Hyperbole: is an extravagant exaggeration, stating an outlandish comparison.

Paradox: is a statement that seems contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true. It can suggest complex emotion and provides mystery to our writing. It is the presentation of unlike ideas, which invites the reader to solve a puzzle.

Analogy: is a resemblance in some particulars between things otherwise unalike, a comparison based on such resemblance. Using analogies helps to clarify or reinforce our meaning, particularly for complex abstract or technical ideas.

Allegory: is the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations, about human existence in a story or art. It’s metaphorical in each element of person, place, thing or idea.

Symbols: are things that stand for or suggest something else because of relationship, association, convention or accidental resemblance. Not a meaning or a moral, but points to it. A symbol can be a symbolic gesture.

The challenge is the avoidance of sounding contrived.
Try figurative parts of speech and see what might work for you.

Added recommendation:
Keys To Great Writing, Revised and Expanded, by Stephen Wilbers

Earlier Post links in this series—Descriptive Writing for Fiction and Non-Fiction:
Make it with Specificity:
Write it with Research II:
Write it with Senses and POV Tips:

Deborah Lyn Stanley is an author of Creative Non-Fiction. She writes articles, essays and stories. She is passionate about caring for the mentally impaired through creative arts.
Visit her writer’s website at:  
Visit her caregiver’s website and read the Mom & Me memoir at:
Facebook: Deborah Lyn Stanley, Writer

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Terry Whalin said...

Deborah Lyn,

Thanks for this interesting article. I appreciated the definitions and descriptions. Well-done.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

A nice reminder. Because I am an editor, I see these used incorrectly--even when I'm pretty sure the author knows the difference. It's easy to get them confused! And thank you for the invitation to your new Twitter account for caregivers!@TheCaregiversR1
Hugs, Carolyn

Karen Cioffi said...

Very helpful article, Deborah. It gives lots of ways authors can strengthen our writing. Thanks for sharing!

Linda Wilson said...

Hi Deborah, you've covered figurative language in one fell swoop! I plan to keep a copy of your post in a plastic sleeve by my desk where I keep important reminders to do my best to make my writing shine!

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