When writing poetry, is there a known method of some kind that exists that makes it easy to turn a concept I'd like to illustrate into a metaphor? If so, please elaborate as much as possible.


I am asking if there is a way to come up with metaphors quickly and easily, so that if I want to illustrate a concept or a thought or a feeling I can quickly come up with a solid metaphor, rather than ask and puzzle about it.

  • 3
    What?? What are you saying?? Commented May 3, 2012 at 19:44
  • 1
    The "quick and easy" part of this question are grating on me - there's no creative formula that's "quick and easy," if there would be, it wouldn't be creative. Maybe change to ask about process and methods to develop a metaphor, even the arduous and time-consuming ones?
    – Standback
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 3:36
  • Metaphors are conceptual in nature, at least partially. Is it possible for such a method to be specific to poetry? Commented May 4, 2012 at 3:42
  • I could ask about how to develop a metaphor, but, I'm not interested in getting an answer to that so I would feel disingenuous doing so, so, I'd rather see it closed if it's not useful. I've voted to close and flagged. I don't have troubles coming up with metaphors, I was only wondering if there were tips to make it easier and faster. Commented May 4, 2012 at 5:06

4 Answers 4


Quick and dirty way?

Grab the nearest adjective describing given noun. Grab another noun described by that adjective. Find an adjective or another description that sets them apart. There, you have the metaphor.

Glass - transparent - air - solid - solid air.

Hand - limp - jelly - fingered - fingered jelly

Bar - noisy - classroom - drinks and cigarettes - classroom of drinks and cigarettes

Bus - long - sausage - streets - Sausage of the streets.

As you certainly notice these aren't top notch. This is a quick&dirty method as you requested. If you want quality metaphors, you must painstakingly craft them, or experience a flash of inspiration, no way around that.

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    Sausage of the Streets? HAHA. You just invented a new word for drag queen. Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 21:39

To quickly generate metaphors I grab my thesaurus and I find words that mean the same thing as the concept I'm trying to metaphorize. I tend to pick out words that do not sound at all similar despite having the same meaning. After I have a collection of words as a baseline, I write a sentence each to describe each of them. I pick the most illustrative sentences and I expand them to paragraphs. Once that's done there is always a metaphor waiting for me in my mind. This is an exercise that I learned at a writing conference, and it almost always works for me. The presenter suggested that it's because the act of writing concrete structures describing words that mean what you're trying to illustrate gets your subconscious to think about the metaphor while you're concentrating your conscious mind on the act of writing descriptions. YMMV, but, as I said it works for me.

I asked the question hoping to get more exercises like this one, not to answer my own question, because the times that it doesn't work I often end up stuck. :)


No. Absolutely not. You should puzzle over everything you write until you know that the words convey exactly what you want. There is no abstract "metaphor machine," so to speak.

When I need a metaphor, sometimes it's there, waiting for me. And sometimes I have to sit for five minutes and think, iterating over different aspects of the world we live in until I find the one that best mirrors the subject and fits the context.

And sometimes I put in a blank and think about it for days.

  • 1
    By this logic, one shouldn't use outlines; these "story machines" prevent us from being spontaneous. It's the not the tool that's the problem, but how we use it. (When there is such a tool.) And let's not even get started on Scrivener here, that soul-sucking story tool of hacks. (Yes, I'm being sarcastic.) Commented May 4, 2012 at 0:41
  • I'm with Aerovistae on this one - the only way to come up with a colorful simile for X is to sit down and think, "Hmmmm, what is clearly similar to X and is also interesting and thematically appropriate?". Stories don't come out of machines either.
    – Standback
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 3:34
  • I feel bad, like I pulled some kind of a bait and switch unintentionally by asking when I had an answer already, but, I felt that if I put my answer I wouldn't have gotten any ideas from anyone else about how to get unstuck or any other exercises to try, so I left the question unanswered. After seeing the downvotes and your answer, I decided that it was unlikely I was going to get any more ideas, so I posted my answer, but, since the question doesn't seem useful to others we should just delete it anyhow so it doesn't matter. Still, I wasn't trying to pull some kind of a bait and switch. :( Commented May 4, 2012 at 6:23

Don't write if you're not practically exploding with passion. Write to a person, a thing, an audience, a listener, a love, and just tell them (or it) what you need to say in the most concise, comprehensive, and truthful way you muster.

  • Most poetry would suffer greatly if you stripped it of metaphor. Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 6:04

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