“Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.” â€“ Orson Scott Card
Whether in Homerâ€™s Iliad, Shakespeareâ€™s plays or Rowlingâ€™s Harry Potter, fictional writing is packed with metaphors because theyâ€™re so effective at stimulating a readerâ€™s imagination. Metaphors are powerful because by transferring the qualities of one object onto another they can enhance an object’s emotional impact by drawing on the reader’s existing thoughts and feelings about the world around them. Metaphors can also simplify complex principles into imagery the reader understands and help them to picture themselves in the scenario you’re describing. Business writing can equally benefit from throwing in a few metaphors, which are regarded as one of a copywriterâ€™s most powerful persuasive devices.
Metaphors reflect everyday speech
A popular metaphor for copywriting is that of chatting to a pal in a bar about a great new product youâ€™ve discovered and why they should buy it. In everyday conversation you wouldnâ€™t describe a product’s benefit’s using the descriptive language found in a brochure, but would use figurative speech to make your points clearer and to help the listener visualise the benefits in their own mind. Using metaphors and similes in your writing mirrors the way people speak. By comparing an object or scenario to something the reader already holds to be true you can help it resonate emotionally, as well as add flair and creativity to your writing. Consider how the impact of the following benefit from metaphors:
- â€œAfter reading this guide on improving your swing youâ€™ll be firing golf balls down the fairway and landing them with laser guided accuracy.â€ (N.B. avoid exaggeration in copywriting because it can cost you credibility)
- â€œAll the worldâ€™s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,â€ â€“ Shakespeareâ€™s comparison of life to performing in a play
- “The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms.â€ â€“ Barack Obama
Metaphors persuade using imagination
People make decisions based on emotion and logic, and metaphors can be powerful in attaching emotional significance to the seemingly mundane. For example, describing global challenges as â€˜gathering clouds and raging stormsâ€™ is far more evocative and visual than â€˜economic recession and wars in the Middle Eastâ€™. When used creatively and with imagination, metaphors can colour your writing with feeling and paint pictures in your readerâ€™s mind. Just remember to avoid mixing two different metaphors in one sentence, otherwise you risk blurring their meaning. And try to be original rather than rely on tired old clichÃ©s (although occasionally well worn metaphors can be effective), which can be difficult but will help your writing sound more imaginative and add vibrancy to your persuasive argument. Metaphors are indeed one of the most powerful ingredients in persuasive writing. They can add spice to your words and delight, inspire and seduce readers with a delicious potion of emotionally provocative imagery. Next week: writing with brevity, in the active voice and whatever other nuggets I dig up from my notes.