What is an extended metaphor?

A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things. When you use a linking word, such as “like,” your metaphor is more specifically referred to as a simile:

Example 1:

  • Metaphor: She is a summer breeze.
  • Simile. She is like a summer breeze.

An extended metaphor is a comparison that recurs throughout the duration of your story. The metaphor is reflected in your word choices and the consistency of the imagery.

I love writing extended metaphors in the voice of my New Angeles character Ronnie. Here’s an example:

Example 2:

  • “She tastes like the sea, salty, abyssal; she tastes like there are parts of her that no one will ever know. Guess that makes me the diver. Every time I surface, my blood bubbles with want.” —Every Eye Will See Him

In this example, I set up the extended metaphor by invoking the imagery of a sea. Then, I frame the “blood bubbling” of stimulation and arousal in terms of a deep-sea diver, implying decompression and the danger of hypoxia, even if Ronnie is not actually diving into a literal sea. Throughout the story, I pepper in more water-related words, like “flow” and “rain” to create an overall sense of the piece being watery and full of, well, emoceans.

No Face cannot handle all these feels.

If your prose seems flowery but muddled, you can identify and revise the extended metaphor(s) throughout the piece. You might be mixing metaphors or leaving things hanging, which creates unintended dissonance throughout your piece. When you smooth and untangle the metaphors, you’ll have greater internal clarity that the reader will pick up on, whether consciously or not.

Reading comprehension exercises

  1. Freewrite an extended metaphor for ten minutes.
    1. Identify the words in your freewriting piece that could be replaced with synonyms that reinforce your metaphor. For example, if you are using a car metaphor, “driving” would be a synonym you could use for “going.”
    2. Rewrite lines, if any, that wander from the central metaphor.
    3. Pick your favorite line and reflect on what kinds of emotions it invokes.