I was looking for some writers who are famous for their rich in metaphors, poetic style (to study and learn from them). Surprisingly, Google had failed me, locating only one page with a relevant question (and no answers).

To be more specific, the metaphors I'm interested in are neither large-scale creative elements (such as "the Castle in the novel is a metaphor for religion") nor extended metaphors that span a paragraph or more.

I'm looking for writers with well developed style, dense with sentence-level metaphors and other rhetorical devices (but probably not similes-only style). I'm not looking for "purple prose", but rather for something clearly readable and yet poetic. It's a bit difficult to to provide good examples, but to give some idea:

  • The night was windy. The contours of the houses flew away like phantoms, staggering and shaking in the turbulent air.

  • ...conversations, through the sunny cellophane of which not very appetizing frustrations can be readily distinguished

(To narrow it down a bit more, I'm looking for writers from the 20th and the 21st centuries using modern English)

I'm asking for a list of writers and not for a list of books because hopefully the whole body of work of such a writer will be useful and enjoyable to study.

EDIT: To clarify, I don't have anything against similes. Obviously, any master of metaphor will probably be using a lot of similes too, often in the same sentence - just as in the first example above (where "like phantoms" is a simile and "flew" and "staggering" are metaphors). It's just that similes aren't my primary interest here, and a writer who uses /mostly/ similes and rarely or never metaphors would not be a good example for studying the art of metaphor.

  • Have you ever read Tolkien? He's great, in my opinion, for elegant and descriptive writing. He's incredible on all fronts. Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 20:23
  • @Lythric I have, but it was a long time ago. I'll try rereading LoTR, thank you. Commented Sep 25, 2016 at 23:15
  • Tolkien is more than just LoTR. For this type is writing I would suggest starting away from LoTR and look at his Unfinished Tales and the Silmarillion
    – user18397
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 11:14
  • @Thomo The Silmarillion is not for Tolkien novices. Re-read the LOTR trilogy first to get back into that mindset and reading the rhythms of that language. It's beautiful, thoughtful material, and well worth reading, but one does not simply jump into Tolkien backstory. Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 11:16
  • @Lauren true, but I would still say Unfinished Tales is perhaps better for those purpose (and a good sought easier to do piecemeal )
    – user18397
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 11:24

3 Answers 3


The two I can think of off the top of my head are Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Dirk Gently, et al.)

“Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now.”

“The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy also mentions alcohol. It says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, the effect of which is like having your brains smashed out with a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.”

and PG Wodehouse (The Jeeves and Wooster series, among others).

“When it comes to letting the world in on the secrets of his heart, he has about as much shrinking reticence as a steam calliope.”

“She looked like a tomato struggling for self-expression.”

  • The Wodehouse examples are not metaphors but similes. A simile compares two things. The use of phrases like "like a ..." or "as ... as" is a clear sign of a simile. A metaphor does not compare but replaces the original object with the thing it compares to, like the bowl of petunias standing in for the alien in the first Douglas Adams example. The second is again a simile.
    – user5645
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 7:25
  • @what You are correct. Those were the first two examples I liked enough to copy. Wodehouse in general has extremely colorful, fun language, and I'm sure you can locate metaphors if you read through his many books. If the OP is looking for inspiration about how to create vivid language, I don't think it matters enormously if the source is one grammatical structure over the other. Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 9:50
  • @UryMarshak Joy in the Morning and Code of the Woosters are my two favorites, but you can't go wrong with any of the J&W books. Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 13:45

For me, there are only two words that can answer this question: "Patricia McKillip".

"Lyrical, epic prose", is one way to describe her. "The way everyone should write about magic", is another way I've heard to describe her. Me, I simply read everything she writes that I can find.

I once met a book critic of some decades of career experience at a Barnes and Nobles. She challenged me to pick out of the Sci-fi and Fantasy section my best recommendation for her. A daunting prospect indeed.

I took a few steps over to reach my choice and pulled off the shelf the Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy and the Cygnet duology, both by Patricia McKillip and handed them to her. Of course, she had already read them all, but her response to me was that in all the years of her career as a book critic, the sole author she had not been able to find anything major to criticize about was one Patricia McKillip.

I hope you try out her books, if you have not already, and enjoy them.

  • +1 for Patricia McKillip, one of my most favourite writers ever. I'm not sure, her writing is metaphorical, though. Lyrical, yes, but not metaphorical. Here's an example from Winter Rose, the last book of her's that I read: "They said later that he rode into the village on a horse the color of buttermilk, but I saw him walk out of the wood." That first sentence is poetic and it hints at mystery and magic, but a metaphor would have been: "He rode into the village on a buttermilk storm," where the "buttermilk storm" would have been a metaphor for a wild white horse.
    – user5645
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 7:16
  • @nijineko : Thank you, I'm not yet familiar with her books, but I'm putting it on my reading list. Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 12:32
  • I think her use of metaphor varies from book to book. It's been a while since I last re-read it, but I recall the Cygnet duology as being more dense in metaphor than some of the others.
    – nijineko
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 19:24

You might also try "Hyperion" from Dan Simmons. He is, in my opinion, a god of metaphorical writing. Interestingly enough, in "Hyperion" the story is told from several different character's point of view, and only one of the characters (the poet) uses this style of writing. I thought this contrasts it even more, maybe give it a try :)

  • I've tried reading Hyperion when I was young and didn't like it. But at that time I was mostly looking for cool adventures, so I should give it another try now. Thank you. Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 10:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.