9 Metaphor Exercises to Empower Your Writing

Metaphors Be With You

As you probably know, I’m in the process of creating a series of lessons and exercises that help you improve your ability to work with metaphors. Here are the nine exercises, which I’ll be discussing in greater detail later on.

1: Metaphor Madlibs

What it’s for: Helping people recognize and understand metaphors.

How it works: These three “madlibs” have players supply the objects and verbs. The random selections are then put into famous metaphor-based sayings, a metaphor-rich story, and other metaphor frameworks. Players are able to dissect what makes a metaphor in a simple and enjoyable way.

The full entry can be found here.

2: A Little S&M

What it’s for: Helping people differentiate metaphors from other types of language (including simile, hyberbole, literal descriptions, and euphemisms).

How it works: This exercise is structured as a simple quiz with funny (and slightly sexy) examples. If teaching this exercise to a group, it can be played as a competitive game—either between teams or between individual players. In any case, the objective is to read an example and identiy what type of language is being used.

Full entry coming soon.

3: The Literally Game

What it’s for: Helping people understand the difference between literal and figurative language.

How it works: You play the literally game in much the same way you play “Popcorn.” One person starts telling a story. When they want to pass off the story, however, they simply use a metaphor. The next person then begins their part of the story by saying, “Literally,” and explaining how the apparent metaphor was not really a metaphor at all—directing the story from there.

For example:

Person 1: “I was excited to see her again. I’d always carried a torch for her.”
Person 2: “Literally. She and I spent a lot of time exploring caves, and I always had to carry the torch. I wondered if she would want to go exploring caves that night, but mostly I felt concerned. She had broken my heart before.”
Person 3: “Literally. She had electrocuted me by accident when we were playing with electronics, and it damaged my heart so bad that I had to get a transplant. I was still mad at her. She was a fat old cow.”

Full entry coming soon.

4: Extend My Metaphor

What it’s for: Helping people understand and experiment with extended metaphors.

How it works: 4 to 9 players form a circle. The first player gives a traditional metaphoric statement, such as, “Love is a tempest,” “Life is a battle,” or “She was an angel.” Going around the circle clockwise, each person must add to the metaphor.

For example:

Player 1: Life is a box of chocolates.
Player 2: Life is a box of cholates that you get for Christmas.
Player 3: Life is a box of chocolates that you get for Christmas, even though you’re Jewish.
Player 4: Life is a box of chocolates you get for Christmas, even though you’re Jewish, and the box is really hard to open.

Once the metaphor has extended all the way back to player 1, the person to their left starts the next metaphor.

Full entry coming soon.

5: That’s Mixed Up

What it’s for: Showing how terrible mixed metaphors are.

How it works: This game resembles Apples to Apples. One player is the judge each round. They start a metaphor, and each other player has to provide a mismatched conclusion to the statement that makes the original metaphor into a mixed metaphor. The judge then decides which mixed metaphor is the worst (making the full metaphor silly, nonsensical, or otherwise bad). Whoever came up with that metaphor gets a point. The first person with 5 points wins.

For example:

The judge provides the metaphor: “The thought was lightning.”
Player 1 offers: “The thought was lightning that froze me in my tracks.”
Player 2 offers: “The thought was lightning that shot a bullet straight through me.”
Player 3 offers: “The thought was lightning that made my legs turn to jelly.”
Player 4 offers: “The thought was lightning that had the taste of honey.”
The judge decides that they like player 2’s mixed metaphor the best, so player 2 gets a point.

Full entry coming soon.

6: Metaphoring Amok

What it’s for: Helping people see how many ways metaphors can be used to communicate a single idea. It also helps people recognize cliche metaphors.

How it works: Each player gets a pen and paper. A judge (who also works as the timer) then provides a literal description of a subject or object. The players must then write down as many ways as they can think of to express that idea using metaphors. The time limit is 3 minutes.

Once time is up, each person reads their metaphors aloud. If anyone else has the same metaphor, each player strikes that metaphor off their list. The judge determines if a metaphor is really a metaphor, if it accurately makes the description, and if two metaphors are similar enough that they cancel each other out. For each unique metaphoric description at the end of the round, the player gets one point.

Full entry coming soon.

7: Assimilating Similes

What it’s for: Helping people recognize how metaphors provide stronger comparisons than similes.

How it works: Take any work previously written by a person who uses similes. This is especially effective for poetry. The writing can come from a group member’s work, famous work, or something else. The group then goes through, notes all the similes, and changes them to metaphors, re-reviewing the content to decide if the metaphors have made specific comparisons stronger or weaker.

Full entry coming soon.

8: Metaphors Exploring the Spectrum

What it’s for: Showing people how metaphors of different types can trigger different emotions.

How it works: Divide into two teams (excepting one judge). The judge provides a literal description, and each team then comes up with two metaphors to express that idea. One metaphor must trigger positive emotion about the described object and one must trigger negative emotion. The judge determines who gets a point for the positive and negative response, with two points available each round. At the end of play (once the judge no longer has literal descriptions to provide), the team with the most points wins.

Full entry coming soon.

9: Tarot’s Metaphoric Magic

What it’s for: Helping people see how we can make broad connections with metaphors.

How it works: Using a deck of Tarot cards or, alternatively, one of the many websites that give “free readings,” have each participant receive a three-card reading. In the three card reading, the first card is the past, the second is the present, and the third is the future. After each card is laid down, the participant examines the visuals of the cards and describes them (for example, “Judgment is a card with a person blowing a horn,” or “The eight of swords is a person tied up and surrounded by weapons”). They must then express one way in which their past, present, or future (depending on which card it is) is metaphorically represented by that card.

Full entry coming soon.

Along with these nine exercises, I will be providing lessons that help introduce and ingrain important concepts about using (and abusing) metaphors. I look forward to working with you. You know, metaphorically speaking.