Today’s writing quote comes from an author whose work I’m rather fond of (I’ve read several of his books, and they are very intelligent and articulate books).
Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.
Metaphors are one of those tools of style that writers have at their disposal, but few writers master their use. In the wrong hands, a metaphor becomes a blunt instrument, good only for pounding the nails of common things, or worse, it becomes a cliché. But in more practiced hands, they become as Lyra’s Alethiometer, revealing the truth of things in unexpected ways.
The first challenge of metaphor is to use it only when called for. Not every descriptive element benefits from the use of metaphor to describe it. Overuse of metaphor can weaken each use.
The second, and greater challenge of metaphor, is to find meaningful connections between unlike things that, when placed in juxtaposition, will reveal something new to the reader. Thus, for instance, it’s not generally meaningful or useful to use metaphor to describe a property of an object that is self-evident. We wouldn’t, for instance, write that “the sun gleamed in the sky like a thousand candles” – this poor metaphor is calling out the character of “brightness” of the sun, but that’s a self-evident and defining characteristic, and gives the reader no new information.
Instead, a metaphor like “the sun glared down like my third-grade math teacher” tells us something meaningful (although what meaning that might be is incomplete without knowing a little more about the third-grade math teacher, but the verb “glare” suggests what that teacher might have been like), and suggests something of the state-of-mind of the character making this observation.
Those are just a couple of my thoughts on using metaphor. I’m no master, by far, but keeping these techniques in mind, I’m sure I’ll find myself improving over time.