Metaphor Quotient

I picked up a book called A Whole New Mind, by Daniel H. Pink from the library.  It’s on moving from the left brain way of business to doing it the right brain way.  One of the things he suggests in the book is:

Improve your MQ (metaphor quotient) by writing down compelling and surprising metaphors you encounter.  Try it for a week and you’ll understand the power of this exercise.

I decided to try it because I was curious to see how much they actually got used and what was being used.  Writers are generally told not to do metaphors (following along the same lines as adverbs), because beginners do them badly, overuse them, or do them for the sake of being writerly.  But what I found was, at times, amazing and inspiring.

Some of the metaphors were obvious, while others were a simple change.  One word, and the sentence had a different impact, a different meaning.  “Potholed road” becomes “pockmarked road.”   Some things to keep in mind when coming up with metaphors:

1.  Think past the obvious cliched metaphors, but don’t think too hard about what to come up with.  I think this is the major problem that leads to ghastly metaphors that veer into purple prose.  The writer is trying to come up with something — anything –and ends up with metaphors that don’t feel natural.  Gardening Gone Wild notes:

One secret to thinking metaphorically is to ask yourself:  “If I didn’t know what it is, what would I think it was?” That overides your left brain’s tendency to label things, and allows your right brain’s creativity to kick in.

2. The metaphor should fit in with the flow of the story.  If people remember the metaphor and not the story, that’s a big problem.  You want the metaphor to add to the big picture of the story.  I’m reading a book now, where the author used a most unfortunate metaphor, comparing a headache to a “time-elapsed tumor.”

3. Make sure the metaphor matches what you’re trying to do and uses the right words.  It ruins of the image to say a string can be uncorked.

4.  Have fun.  Don’t just use visual metaphors, but use how something feels, what it smells like.  All of it is an opportunity to enhance the story.

A challenge:  Metaphorize the palm tree picture.