Monday, 9 July 2012

How to Use Metaphors to Engage and Encourage Readers

How to Use Metaphors to Engage and Encourage Readers:
This guest post is by Elizabeth Joss of Xcellent Media.
“They nailed their stakes into the earth of my life, those farmers. They knew the place in me where the river stopped, and they marked it with a new name. Shantaram Kishan Kharre. I don’t know if they found that name in the heart of the man they believed me to be, or if they planted it there, like a wishing tree, to bloom and grow. Whatever the case, whether they discovered that peace or created it, the truth is that the man I am was born in those moments, as I stood near the flood sticks with my face lifted to the chrismal rain. Shantaram. The better man that, slowly, and much too late, I began to be.”—Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram, p.136-137
The words of Gregory David Roberts fill me with a sense of awe and passion, and at the same time they inspire me to write. His novel, Shantaram, is comprised of moving metaphorical prose that calls readers to action, whether it be to laugh, cry, or to delve deep within themselves.
Metaphorical writing can be used to transport the reader to an imaginary world, all with the unification and comparison of two unrelated objects.
It’s the perfect technique for bloggers wanting to capture readers’ attention—and hold it.

Advantages of metaphors

  • Metaphors add spice to your writing and can make your words sing. They add a layer of richness, making you a better storyteller overall.
  • Metaphors help us relate to a complex world. They help make concepts appear more real and tangible to us and thus we are better able to digest certain concepts (note the metaphor in this sentence too!). They also help us explain complex topics much more effectively to our readers. People will then attach great importance to a topic if they can relate to it through a metaphor.
  • There is a strong visual element to a metaphor, which is what makes it so effective for the reader.
  • Using metaphors can propel the behaviour of your readers and usher them towards action. They are pertinent persuasive devices because they help the reader unlock a part of him or herself and enable a more thorough engagement with the writing and their own imagination.

Metaphor pitfalls

  • Avoid overusing metaphors in your writing, as they can weigh your prose down significantly. A metaphor should give your blog post lasting understanding and clarity. Don’t force metaphors into your writing. Rather, use one extended metaphor throughout a text for a better effect.
  • Steer clear of the cheesy or clichéd metaphors we often use in speech. For example, she was blown away by his words or he cooked up a storm. The metaphor should not bring the reader to a halt while reading—its use should be as natural as possible.
  • Know your audience. Metaphorical language differs from culture to culture but it is nonetheless an important part of societies and of individual cognition. People think metaphorically and they create and organize their world through metaphors. This means that different groups of individuals will have different understandings of metaphors, or even completely different metaphors than others. If you want to write for a certain group of people, be sure to research and understand their metaphor usage.
  • Steer clear of using clichés and of forcing metaphors in your prose, unless you are trying to make a point that is both persuasive and effective.

How to create your own metaphor

Blog posts with metaphorical titles (similes) usually attract a lot of attention. I’m sure you’ve seen articles about why blogging is like dating, going to the gym, or even like The Wizard of Oz. These comparisons usually run through the entire blog post right from the title itself, thus creating an extended metaphor.
Sean Platt’s The Eminem Guide to Becoming a Writing and Marketing Machine is a great example of metaphor. Writing a blog post is likened to Eminem’s storytelling and rapping techniques. This controversial headline is catchy and Sean uses a popular artist to make us identify with his topic right from the outset.
Here are some useful steps to create your own metaphor (extended or ordinary) for use in your next blog post:
  1. Focus on the concept you are trying to explain. For example, you may be informing your readers about the benefits of yoga.
  2. Brainstorm the concept and write down everything that comes into your head, as I’ve done below:
  3. What similar, real-life objects or concepts (must be completely unrelated) embody the points you’ve brainstormed? Make a list of the first few things that come to mind using the free-association technique (where you write spontaneously as things come into your thoughts).
  4. Which one stands out at you the most? Once I had brainstormed the benefits, the pretzel idea immediately stood out at me—its shape is similar to a yogi’s body when performing a twist on the floor! This is appropriate and it adds an element of humour as well. You can almost imagine a yogi as a contortionist or pretzel on the floor.
  5. Does this metaphor make your topic more accessible to your readers? The idea of a yogi as a pretzel may be slightly clichéd but people can relate to it and its humour makes it a winner.
If you are in need of some inspiration, check out Darren’s post, Blogging is Like, for 42 examples of extended metaphor/simile blog posts, none of which are obvious comparisons.

Find your magic within

The above short tips are only guidelines to get you thinking about using comparisons in your writing. The trick is to think out of the box and make analogies that are not so obvious. You can use the above tactics if you are keen to create a metaphorical title. However, it is safe to say that the more you read and write, the more natural your metaphors will be and you won’t even have to think about purposely employing them.
So if you don’t want ideas or blog posts that are half-baked or regurgitated then look to metaphors as your food for thought. Metaphors are exceptionally powerful devices that, when used properly, will knock the socks off your readers. So don’t wait around—conjure up your own marvellous metaphors!
Do you use metaphors in your writing? Or are there other literary devices you are more drawn to?
Elizabeth Joss writes for Xcellent Media, a media and marketing company based in Cape Town, South Africa. She covers topics like social media, SEO, blogging and web marketing. For more great blogging tips by Elizabeth, follow the Xcellent Media blog or add Xcellent Media on Twitter
Originally at: Blog Tips at ProBlogger


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How to Use Metaphors to Engage and Encourage Readers

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