Using Metaphors When Writing A College Essay

There are many tools that writers can use to improve their essays and to make them more intriguing and engaging for the reader. One of these tools is metaphor. Metaphor allows the writer to describe a concept as if it were something else, drawing a comparison between these two ideas to deepen the reader’s understanding of the original concept.

Difference between metaphor and simile

Metaphors and similes are similar, but there is an important distinction between them. While they may be used to draw comparisons between the same two concepts, they do so in different ways.

“Her eyes were as deep as the ocean.”

The above quote is a simile.

“Her eyes were deep oceans.”

This one is a metaphor. Note that when using a simile, terms like “like” and “as” are used, while in a metaphor, the two concepts are equated. Her eyes are not like oceans, they are oceans.

Reasons to Use Metaphors

Metaphors are primarily used for three reasons:

  • To explain
  • In the above quote, equating the woman’s eyes to oceans explains to the reader that that the narrator finds them almost unbelievably deep and mysterious; the ocean imagery does the best possible job of portraying this.

  • To increase interest
  • Metaphors paint vivid pictures that pique the reader’s interest and heighten their sense of creativity and imagination.

  • For impact
  • Metaphors are a strong way to use imagery. Similes are somewhat softer. For this reason, many writers limit their use of metaphors so that when they do use them, they have the maximum impact.

Metaphors: Tips

When using metaphors, it’s a good idea to try and avoid being trite. Trite metaphors are those which are used too frequently, so they lose their impact. The above example, comparing eyes and oceans, could be considered trite. Instead, try to think of a concept for comparison which your reader will be surprised by, despite how applicable it is.

Also, be careful not to mix metaphors. When you compare something tangible in your story to a concept, fulfill that comparison before equating it to something else. If, for example, you are using a metaphor to equate an argument and a boxing match, do not change it to a hockey game midway through. This may or may not actually confuse the reader, but even if it doesn’t, it comes across as sloppy and ineffectual, and is best avoided.