Metaphors – can you can have too many?

My journey through the furrows of a book, where literary gems lie strewn amid the tumbled weeds of a partially ploughed landscape, strewn with half collected crops of obtuse words, overworked adjectives and obfuscated prose ….

Tangled Jungle, photo by Ruth Livingstone.
Can’t see the wood
for the trees.

The use and abuse of metaphors


Just read a book of short stories (Dr Mukti and other tales of woe by Will Self) and found myself drowning in a sea of muddling metaphors, distracting similes and obscuring adjectives.

Here is an example of a metaphor used in the book: ‘this was only the lull before the storm hit the frail vessel of his foundering career’. This is not the greatest of metaphors but, compared to some in the book, it is reasonable in the context of the story. Why is this a reasonable metaphor? Because it conjures up a useful image for the reader and adds an element of suspense. From this metaphor, we are aware that the character is in difficulty at work and we are waiting, in anticipation, for the storm to strike.

Here is an example of a distracting simile, which is used when describing three men following each other along the street: ‘strung out like beads on the drool of an idiot’. What does this add to the description of the scene? Nothing. The reader’s attention should be focused on the three men following each other down a street but, instead, we are presented with the image of an enormous face and dribble. This adds nothing to the narrative and throws us out of the story.

For a more detailed description of my safari through the furrows of this book, where literary gems lie strewn amid the tumbled weeds of a partially ploughed landscape, cluttered with the half-collected crops of obtuse words, overworked adjectives and obfuscated prose, the views harvested by this simple farmer of a reader can be found on my Ruthless Reading blog

Author: Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, Doctor, woman, etc.

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