Writing is a lot like painting. You start with a blank canvas and, using only words, fill it with color, texture, and depth. Figurative language is the use of words and phrases past their literal meaning to create imagery and evoke emotions. However, figurative language isn’t just for writing poetry. It can help you create engaging scenes and characters that come alive in the reader’s mind without resorting to flat, dull exposition. In this post, we’ll explore some of the most common figurative language types and provide examples of how to use them to show, not tell.
Simile & Metaphor
A simile links two things using “like” or “as.” Comparison is a great way to make a description more vivid and memorable. For example:
“The wind moaned like a lost soul.”
While similar to a simile, a metaphor does not use “like” or “as.” Instead, it directly compares two things. For example:
“Her heart was a cold, dark cave.”
When writing or revising, ask yourself if any elements in the scene could be compared to something else?
Personification gives human characteristics to objects or animals. Doing so creates a more relatable and emotional connection with the reader. For example:
“The leaves danced in the wind.”
When writing or revising, ask yourself if any objects or elements in the scene could be personified?
Hyperbole is an exaggeration used to create emphasis or humor and creates memorable descriptions that stick with the reader. For example:
“He ate the entire cake in one bite.”
When writing or revising, ask yourself if there is a message that could be emphasized through exaggeration.
Onomatopoeia utilizes words that imitate the sound of the thing being described. Onomatopoeia creates engaging scenes with a more immersive and sensory experience for the reader. For example:
“The fire crackled and popped.”
When writing or revising, ask yourself if any sounds in the scene could be emphasized.
An allusion refers to something outside the text, such as a historical event, myth, or famous person. Allusion adds depth and meaning to a story. For example:
“She had the Midas touch. Everything she touched turned to gold.”
When writing or revising, ask yourself if any well-known stories or myths could relate to the scene or character.
Symbolism is the use of an object, word, or image to represent a more profound meaning or idea. It’s great for adding layers of meaning to a story. For example:
“The butterfly represented her transformation and growth.”
When writing or revising, ask yourself if there is an object, word, or image you could use to represent a deeper meaning.
Incorporating these figurative language types into your writing can create vivid, engaging scenes that will draw your readers in and keep them hooked. Remember, showing instead of telling is the key to great storytelling.