Analogy, Simile, and Metaphor as Descriptions

Metaphors, analogies, and similes are very similar in nature. Each is used to paint a picture with words. A simile is the most literal and straightforward; it uses the word like or as to make a comparison:

He's crazy like a fox.

He's as crazy as a fox.

The above examples are designed to make a comparison. The sentences do not make literal statements. Instead, they make figurative statements designed to add depth to the description.

A metaphor sits at the opposite end of the spectrum. It states that one thing is something else. A metaphor can create a very visual impact for your reader, so its use can be a very powerful tool. Its meaning is still figurative, but a metaphor causes you to read between the lines. Consider the following examples: Don't pull my leg.

Don't pull the wool over my eyes.

Nobody's leg is actually being pulled in the first example. It simply means, “Be serious with me; don't joke around!” But the metaphor is, for whatever reason, that you're pulling on someone's leg by not telling the truth.

Be careful that the metaphor you use is not a cliché. Using a phrase, expression, or passage that has been overused (or has become a cliché) can have a negative effect on your writing, and as a result, cause it to lose its credibility. To have impact, your metaphor needs to be original or unique to the idea you're trying to convey.

The second example is a metaphor, too. It doesn't involve any wool, but it serves to paint the picture that somehow you're interfering with the view of the person involved. Pulling wool over that person's eyes is a figurative illustration that you're clouding the person's vision.

At the beginning of this discussion on metaphors, a metaphor was used. Did you notice it? “A metaphor sits at the opposite end of the spectrum.” If you think about it, a metaphor can't actually sit anywhere — it's a thought, not something concrete. That sentence was a figurative metaphor, but it did its job conveying the meaning. That's how a good metaphor should be — invisible to the reader unless he or she is looking for it.

In between simile and metaphor is analogy. An analogy is usually a lot longer than either a simile or metaphor because you're using it to compare one situation to another. And that's the big difference — when you use an analogy, you are directly comparing two things. A simile is like a very short analogy; an analogy may use like or as, but your comparison is more likely to be much longer. It might even take up a paragraph. It will still have the aspects of simile and metaphor, but you provide more detail to convey the comparison. Analogy can be an effective tool because it allows you to point out the similarities between two situations where a simile or metaphor won't quite cut it.

To use analogy, just take a simile or metaphor and elaborate upon it. Stretch it out, and use the example to illustrate the point you're trying to make. Unlike a metaphor, it won't be a direct statement, and unlike a simile, it won't be a simple comparison. Use it when a simile or metaphor won't establish enough of the meaning you're trying to convey.

A simile uses the word like or as to make a comparison. You can remember what a simile is by remembering that it states a similarity. A metaphor, on the other hand, goes the extra distance and actually says that something has certain characteristics. Both are important tools in the writer's toolbox.

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