Using Figurative Language in your Writing

Published: 23 Jul 2021 Tagged: allusionFigurative Languagehigh schoolershyperboleidiomimplied metaphorlanguageliteracymetaphoronomatopoeiapersonificationprimary schoolerspunsimiletipsvocabularywriting
Using Figurative Language in your Writing

When we are reading a book with a story or poetry, it’s pretty likely that we will find some passages with figurative language, adding an extra layer of meaning to what we are reading. But what is figurative language? How to use appropriately?

Figurative language is a phrasing technique that goes beyond the literal meaning of the used words towards a better demonstration of emotions, mood and relevance of an action, character or event. In order to make it work, we can use a wide array of techniques from figurative language, such as:

  • Simile: this happens when someone or something is compared to a seemingly unrelated thing. For example, when you write “they walked as elegant as a cat.”
  • Metaphor: you can write a metaphor when not comparing such as a Simile does, but connects the seemingly unrelated thing as a predicative, such as when writing “those kids are such busy bees.”
  • Implied metaphor: similar to the metaphor, the implied metaphor uses elements that connect to a metaphor, but without being so explicit. A use of implied metaphor could be “I can’t stand this guy! He’s quacking his opinions nonstop!”
  • Personification: instead of putting qualities or comparisons onto people, we use personification to input human traits to animals, natural forces or inanimate objects. A good example is “the Sun is smiling to me on this warm day.”
  • Hyperbole: this one is very common, because everyone likes to make exaggerated statements, such as “I’m so busy today, I have a million tasks to finish until the end of the day!”
  • Allusion: that happens when you refer to another person, place, text, event or artwork in order to compare one element to the other. A use of allusion could be “I’m very proud of this, that’s my Monalisa of science projects!”
  • Idiom: some expressions are figurative because they represent an action or event, such as when saying “hey, my friend, hold your horses, soon we’ll get there.”
  • Pun: a play of words with a humorous meaning is a pun. A good example, many times explored, is “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”
  • Onomatopoeia: though with such a complicated name, an onomatopoeia is very common and very explored when we are learning how to speak, trying to simulate the sounds we hear. Words like “buzz”, “whoof”, “tick-tock”, “ding-dong” and others are great examples.

Now that you know about these nine techniques for figurative language, it’s important for you to know that you shouldn’t use them all the time, for any reason. Our tips for the appropriate use of figurative language are:

  1. Know why you're utilising figurative language at all times. Why don't you just say "our love is dead" instead of "I don't love you anymore?" Is the expression in your character's mouth accurate? Is it appropriate for your tone and style? If it isn't, then don't use it.
  2. Carefully select your figures of speech. Yes, you can write, "her beauty hit me in the eye like a squirt of grapefruit juice," but how would such a simile add to your story or expand on its meaning? If you have a character with major communication challenges, it's a good idea to include it; otherwise, avoid it.
  3. Use figurative language only when necessary. A text densely packed with similes and metaphors can be difficult to decipher. Choose figures of speech that will help you achieve your goal (boosting mood, meaning, or subject), but don't use them just because you can.
  4. Make sure that any figurative language you use in speech is appropriate for that character. Characters that speak plainly should not have flowery language in their mouths.

Watch this fun video which also explains about some of these figurative language techniques:

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