Beautiful Words,  Creativity

Using Metaphors To Strengthen Your Prose

Your story is about something abstract. Sure, it’s got zombies, princesses, and a dragon or two, but it also could point to justice, honor, freedom, or hope. 

Perhaps your reader would be more engaged with the themes of your story if you connected them more clearly with carefully chosen metaphors.

A metaphor is a familiar concrete image that enhances the meaning of an abstract idea through comparison. The following exercise describes one of my most favorite ways to articulate the abstract concepts in my stories.

It’s complicated, so bear with me.

Choose an abstract concept, say FEAR.

Now, get a list of nouns. (A list from the board game Scattergories is a great resource, but if you don’t have that, I have my lists below.)

Then, come up with a form of this noun that demonstrates fear. You’ll have to really stretch your mind for this and it takes practice.

Here’s an example. My “Fear” answers are all caps.

1. A type of food OATMEAL

2. A board game CLUE

3. Something you would say in traffic SLOW DOWN!

4. Something that you would wear A MASK

5. A color YELLOW

6. A famous book CATCHER IN THE RYE

7. A moment in American history 9/11

8. A flower BABYS BREATH

9. An item of furniture SAFETY GATE

10. Something in your pantry MOUSETRAP

Now obviously there is no right or wrong answer. My answers do however have some sort of connection to the original abstract thought. My creative process requires that “explain myself” to see how these concrete items tie into the abstract. The more I think about the comparison, the more clear I see the connection. I can take that connection and use it for my characters or my descriptions or even inner monologues. “He was afraid, like that Tuesday morning when he saw the jets crash in the building. His heart stopped.”

I find that if you have an abstract concept or your characters are dealing with complex emotions, a good way to illustrate a complicated matter is with metaphor. This exercise, especially, will encourage a unique take on the idea. Because the last thing you need is for your metaphors to be predictable and dull.

Here are more nouns to choose from. 

1. A type of food

2. A board game

3. Something you would say in traffic

4. Something that you would wear

5. A color

6. A famous book

7. A moment in American history

8. A flower

9. An item of furniture

10. Something in your pantry


1. An animal at the zoo

2. An expression

3. Something someone would do in a city

4. A movie

5. A sport or recreation

6. An expensive gift

7. Something at a craft store

8. Something at a camp

9. Something at a church

10. A form of transportation


1. Something in a small town

2. One of my friends

3. Something an indy author would do

4. Something you would see on an interstate

5. Something that a middle school girl owns

6. A flavor

7. A color

8. A type of music

9. A specific noise in your neighborhood

10. An ocean animal


1. A scent

2. An anecdote from my early motherhood days

3. A mathematical concept

4. Something that was in my mother’s kitchen

5. Someone from your childhood community

6. Something to do with water

7. Something I loved in the ’80s

8. A song from my playlists

9. A hairstyle

10. An Olympic sport


1. Old stuff

2. Anthropomorphic things

3. Reasons to brag

4. Kinds of soup

5. Things found in a big city

6. Things found on a college campus

7. Things you get tickets for

8. Things you do at work

9. Things you shouldn’t touch

10. Spicy foods


1. Things at a carnival

2. Things you make

3. Places to hang out

4. Animal noises

5. Things you buy for kids

6. Things that can kill you

7. Things associated with money

8. Things associated with winter

9. Storage containers

10. Daily tasks


1. Things with buttons

2. Items you take on a trip

3. Things that have wheels

4. Reasons to call 911

5. Ways to kill time

6. Things that can get you fired

7. Hobbies

8. Holiday activities

9. Things in a grocery store

10. Things that have stripes


1. Tourist attractions

2. Things in a hospital

3. Places in Europe

4. Things you see at a zoo

5. Things that happen or you see at a party

6. Something on Facebook

7. An emergency situation

8. Things that are cold

9. School supplies

10. Insects

Katharine Grubb is an author, poet, homeschooling mother, camping enthusiast, bread-baker, and believer in working in small increments of time. She leads 10 Minute Novelists, an international Facebook group of time-crunched writers. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.