People often enjoy lists of ten. Certain writers love commandments about what to do and not. So colleague Angela Rydell and I came up with:
The Ten Commandments of Metaphor
1. Thou shalt honor the similarity between the two things compared.
“Metaphor creates a meaning greater than the sum of its parts, because the parts interact.” — Richard Sennett
2. Thou shalt not make wrongful use of clichés.
“From metaphor we can best get hold of something fresh.” — Aristotle
3. Thou shalt not mix metaphors.
Careful what you include. One bad egg can spoil the whole pot of chili.
4. Thou shalt not superfluously ornament thy language with metaphors.
“To be successful… metaphor must be functional rather than decorative.” — Stephen Dobyns
5. Thou shalt not state the obvious.
Show, don’t tell.
6. Thou shalt remember meaning and keep it holy.
“A good metaphor fits so neatly that it fuses to and illuminates the meaning.” — Janet Burroway
7. Thou shalt not covet abstract language.
“No ideas but in things.” — William Carlos Williams
8. Thou shalt dig deeper than obvious comparisons.
“Metaphor says more in an instant than pages of explication can.” — Michelle Boisseau
9. Thou shalt not reveal how hard thou worked at writing.
“The language must be careful and must appear effortless. It must not sweat. It must suggest and be provocative at the same time.” — Toni Morrison
10. Thou shalt honor precision.
“The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning-bug.” — Mark Twain
Tip: Work hard at your metaphors. So your readers don’t have to.