"Clouds soared high into the sky like raging horses."

Horses don't soar, but is it ok to use "like raging horses" after "soar high into the sky"? I am wondering if this kind of comparison is permitted. The direction is "wrong" and the verb is "wrong", so I am wondering if the use of like would be warranted and if another comparison should be used.

  • 2
    Are "bad" metaphors "permitted"? This is highly opinion-based.
    – Alexander
    May 12 '20 at 18:11
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    Small correction: A comparison with "like" is a simile. A metaphor could be e.g.: "Raging horses soared high in the sky."
    – Llewellyn
    May 12 '20 at 18:16
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    Clouds don't soar into the sky either. Do your clouds taxi down a runway and take off like aeroplanes? This line sounds like an excerpt from Jabberwocky. Nonsense. May 12 '20 at 19:52
  • @MicahWindsor "Soar" has 2 definitions: "rise rapidly to reach a high level/altitude", or "travel quickly at a high level/altitude". Clouds regularly carry out the latter, and occasionally the former too (when encountering suitable updrafts). Of course, the example sentence appears to be blending the two in a nonsensical manner. "Clouds soared across the sky..." or "Clouds soared high in the sky..." would be better (the former more so) May 13 '20 at 11:00
  • 1
    @Chronocidal Yes, I was more confused by "into". Clouds do soar, but not "into" the sky, a point you seem to agree with. So my point stands. May 13 '20 at 22:39

There's no law against it, so of course it's permitted. (In fact, poetry tends to include "illogical" metaphors.)

However, you'll have to consider what you want to achieve. An unclear metaphor might lead to the readers having a different image in mind than what you intended. In the worst case, it could leave your readers confused and take them out of the story.


It would be crazy to expect people to understand weird metaphors (or similes)

The question is, would it be crazy like a limp, soggy rug - or crazy like the steel manacles I'm using to keep my old writing teacher chained to the wall in the basement?

The advantage of using unusual metaphorical language is that it can shake up your reader in an unexpected way, backing up the car of your narration onto their brain's foot. Some readers will be pinned in place by the weight of your creativity. However, others do not like this sort of thing at all, and may toss aside your car, er, book...and walk away. Well, limp away.

If your objective is to be memorable, albeit controversial, then unusual comparisons are a great tool. I balk at giving countenance to "illogical" metaphors, however. When you draw some kind of comparison, or whatever, there's an expectation that it will mean something. In pure poetry, the thing you intend to communicate may not be the direct, literal meaning of your words - so if your clouds are soaring in the sky like angry horses, you may be trying to lead your reader to think of the size and power of horses, of uncontained anger, or even of the violence you would expect from an angry horse. Clouds rolling across the sky, given the right mood of the person observing them, may indeed soar overhead like angry horses. Or maybe the thunder from the black storm on the horizon tramples on your eardrum like angry horses... But if I'm to appreciate your creativity, I'd better not have to guess too hard at what exactly you're trying to evoke. You've got to include enough cues that the connection is fairly clear, whether the connection is to a sound, an emotional state, or whatever.

"A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" is a famous example of an unexpected and arresting twist - but nobody is left scratching their heads about what the author meant. (Maybe clawing at their eyes, but what can you do?)

*Note: I don't have a basement. And I have no idea what happened to my old writing teacher. Cross my heart and hope to make a killing on the stock market.


Metaphors are two directional. We often talk about how the writing describes the object, let's say clouds in your case. But there is another direction, metaphors describe the writing itself. They create a mood, and tell us things about the narrator of the work. They often tell us how to feel about the story as a whole.

Let's take my favorite metaphor. (this is a similes are a type of metaphor)

"They never met, like two hummingbirds that also never met" This line was made popular on the internet showing kids doing their homework poorly. In my opinion though this is hilarious, and a great bit of writing. The question is when would you say something like that? Well clearly when you are writing something fun and lighthearted. Douglas Adams wrote metaphors like this all the time. On the other hand if you were trying to express the loneliness of the human condition, in a serious, dark piece, this would be highly inappropriate.

So to answer your question, anything is permitted. It's just about maintaining the mood of your work. In your example comparing clouds to horses is very fantastical imagery. If that is what you want to to achieve, great go for it. If you want to instead describe something dark, cold, and oppressive, then this would be pretty inappropriate.

Let's say this another way. People know what clouds look like. You pretty much don't need imagery to tell people about clouds. The only value of describing clouds to create a mood, and a feel for your work. So use metaphors that accomplish those goals.

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