Writing Exercises with Metaphors

writing exercises with metaphors

Writing exercises using metaphors. Creative Commons License photo credit: franzi ♥ PHOTOS on Flickr.

A while back, I wrote a post that had nothing to do with food, but food became a running metaphor while I was revising. The food metaphor was so delicious (or maybe I was so hungry) that I rewrote the entire post with food on the brain.

The blog posts that I write with metaphors always get a lot of positive feedback and everyone seems to embrace them. So I thought why not make writing exercises out of metaphors?

So, what makes metaphors work?

The most effective metaphors trigger our senses by connecting an otherwise intangible subject to sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste. If you can engage any of these senses through metaphor, your writing will take on new life. Not only will it become more entertaining and more memorable, it will be easier for readers to relate to what you’re saying.

Writing exercises that focus on metaphors present a great challenge for learning how to use one of the most effective literary devices at our disposal. And using metaphors in our writing helps us engage readers’ senses. Metaphors are a lot of fun because tickling the senses is…well…sensual. So let’s try it, shall we?

Exercise #1: Thread the Metaphor

Step One: Choose a Topic

Just about any topic will do, but keep in mind that some topics don’t need the help of a metaphor. Subjects like sex, food, music, and anything else that intrinsically affects the senses might not benefit from a metaphor the way more abstract topics will. Think about subjects you’ve explored recently in your writing. Were there any topics that felt flat or dry? You can revisit those topics and see how a metaphor adds dimension and makes a piece more compelling.

Step Two: Choose a Metaphor

Choose one of the five senses and come up with something that affects that particular sense. Here are some examples:

  • Sight: the bold colors of a Picasso painting, anything with motion (traffic, trains, the sea), scenic landscapes
  • Touch: the warmth of velvet, the hard cool of steel, or the scratchy texture of wool
  • Taste: foods or flavors — sweet, spicy, rich, or tart
  • Sound: city sounds, nature (birds tweeting), music, a roaring engine, or absolute quiet
  • Scent: spring showers, shampoo and soaps, swimming pools, a wet dog

Also, be on the lookout for metaphors that work and metaphors that don’t. Some metaphors are tired and have become clichés (stopping to smell the roses comes to mind). Look for unique and original metaphors and notice which ones don’t quite make the grade.

Step Three: Write

Write a short essay about your topic, threading the metaphor through the piece. For example, if you’re going to use the bold colors of a Picasso painting as your metaphor, you can play off your metaphor by mixing in new metaphors about canvasses, paintbrushes, color, and light. You can even get into museums, history, and just about any other area where art is part of the context.

Metaphors work well in almost any type of writing, so you can use this exercise to draft a blog post, a poem, or a short story

Exercise #2: Metaphor Refresh

Go through your journal or files where you store pieces you’ve written and see if there’s anything that could be reworked and made more enticing through the use of a metaphor. For example, metaphors often work well in place of lengthy descriptions. Instead of trying to describe how complex and mysterious life is, we can simply say life is a puzzle.

Exercise #3: Metaphor Mash-Up

Review the first exercise above (“Thread the Metaphor”) and then make a list of twenty-five things. They can be people, places, objects, and topics for discussion. For each item on the list, come up with a single metaphor that could represent it. Be open minded as you work through the list. For example, one of your items might be child. If you come up with munchkin as a metaphor, you’ll discover that the child has taken on personality and specific features. Let the items on your list inspire the metaphors, but then let the metaphors influence the items in return.

Use Metaphors Wisely!

If you decide to tackle any of these writing exercises, come back here and tell us about it!

Have writing exercises like these helped you improve your writing? Have they inspired new ideas? How have metaphors served your writing? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment.

Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.

101 Creative Writing Exercises


3 Fiction Writing Exercises

Three fiction writing exercises

Fiction writing exercises for story development.

Fiction writing exercises can help you discover storytelling techniques and provide ideas and inspiration for your fiction writing projects.

For writers who are young or just starting out with fiction, these exercises provide practice and experience. For more experienced writers, these exercises offer inspiration and can help you see a story from new angles.

Today’s fiction writing exercises are carefully chosen to help you develop some of the most critical components in a story. If you can create a few characters; identify a conflict, climax, and resolution; and choose a theme, you’re well on your way to writing a short story or novel that will resonate with readers.

These exercises are similar to assignments you would complete in a college-level fiction writing class, exercises that push you in the direction of writing material that can be published. You can tackle these exercises separately, but I recommend using them to develop ideas around a single story.

1. Character Exercise: Sketching a Protagonist and an Antagonist

We often think of them as the bad guy and the good guy or the hero and the villain, but those terms are becoming outdated as modern storytelling increasingly embraces protagonists who are highly flawed and antagonists who aren’t 100% evil.

The Exercise: Sketch two characters who are in conflict with each other.

Do not identify a protagonist or antagonist, just create two characters. Both characters should have the potential to be good or evil. Start with physical descriptions, then get inside the characters’ heads to establish their inner landscapes, and finally, work up a bit of backstory for each of them. Remember, these two characters have a fundamental conflict with each other. What is it? The core of this exercise is identifying that conflict.

2. Plot Exercise: Conflict, Climax, and Resolution

The three-act structure is one of the simplest and most effective way to break down a story. Often, the acts are 1) Setup, 2) Confrontation, and 3) Resolution. I think of the three-act structure as 1) Conflict, 2) Climax, and 3) Resolution because those are the three pinnacles in each of the three acts. In the first part of a story, we learn what the conflict is. The second (and largest portion) of the story builds up to a climax in which the conflict hits boiling point. Finally, the third act resolves the conflict.

The Exercise: Determine a conflict, climax, and resolution for a story. You can use the two characters you created in the first exercise for this.

Conflict examples: Two people vying for the same job, a natural disaster, people-eating aliens landing on Earth.

Climax examples: In a big showdown, one job candidate smears the other and knocks the opponent out of the race. A natural disaster claims the lives of half of Earth’s population. Humans engage in a final battle with people-eating aliens.

Resolution examples: The job candidate who got smeared makes a comeback and gets the job. Earth’s survivors rebuild after a planet-wide natural disaster. Against all odds, humans win the battle against aliens with superior technology.

3. Theme Exercise: Universal Ideas

Theme is difficult to explain, but Wikipedia does a good job:

A theme is a broad idea, message, or moral of a story. The message may be about life, society, or human nature. Themes often explore timeless and universal ideas and are almost always implied rather than stated explicitly. Along with plot, character, setting, and style, theme is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction.

I usually think of theme as the big questions that a story asks or its underlying philosophies.

The exercise: Choose a theme and write a list of ways in which a theme can be executed through the course of a story.

You can choose a theme for the characters you sketched in the first exercise or for the three-act structure you developed in the second exercise. For example, in a story where two characters are vying for the same job, the theme might be dream fulfillment (if it’s one or both of the characters’ dream job).

As an alternative, try to identify themes in other stories. Think about your favorite books, movies, and TV shows and make lists of some themes you’ve found in storytelling.

Get Busy with Fiction Writing Exercises

Do you think about character, plot, and theme when you’re working on a story? Do you plan these elements in advance or let them unfold through discovery writing? Who are some of your favorite characters? Can you think of a truly original plot in modern storytelling? What themes in fiction appeal to you the most? And finally, do you use fiction writing exercises and if you do, how have they helped you improve your writing?

Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.

101 creative writing exercises


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