You need to write effectively.
What do we mean by that?
Quite simply, effective writing is successful writing. It helps you achieve your goals. Whether you’re writing your thesis, pitching your first novel, or selling a product, your words need to captivate your reader and keep them engaged to the end. Otherwise, your message will be lost along with your audience. That’s where figurative language comes in. It brings colour to your writing, strengthens your argument, and paints unforgettable images in your reader’s mind. When used correctly, figurative language is memorable, persuasive, and impactful. It is the difference between telling a customer what they need, and persuading them to part with their cash.
For many of us, writing for an audience of some type is an everyday occurrence. Yet many people lack the confidence to use figurative language effectively in their writing. This month we delve into figurative language, defining it, giving examples, and exploring how it can help you to write effectively.
What is figurative language?
Figurative language uses words to create meanings and mental images that are more powerful than mere statements of fact. Figurative language is non-literal, so the words used have a different meaning to their everyday, literal definitions.
What does figurative language do?
It makes a piece of writing more interesting, dramatic, or memorable. It helps the writer to communicate their message as clearly as possible. Think of figurative language as the toolkit that writers use to build imagery – the pictures and sensations that a reader experiences in their mind. These pictures and sensations are the holy grail of effective writing. They tip the balance between stating your argument, and convincing your audience that you’re right. Figurative language achieves these effects in several ways:
- Creating vivid images
- Putting new or complex ideas into a familiar, understandable context
- Giving words pace, musicality and rhythm.
Figurative language types
There are several types of figurative language available to writers – the following types are commonly used by writers to breathe life into their prose.
- A metaphor is a figure of speech that identifies one thing as another.
The agency was a colossus of the marketing industry.
- A simile compares two unalike objects introducing this comparison with connecting words such as “like” or “as”.
His eyes were as black as coal
- Personification gives human qualities and forms to animals, inanimate objects, and ideas.
The shadows danced in the candlelight.
- Hyperbole uses exaggeration intentionally to emphasise a point.
I’ve told you a thousand times!
- Onomatopoeia is when a word or phrase mimics the sound of the object or action it refers to.
Crack of the whip
- Alliteration layers sound upon the literal meaning of words to create an effect. It uses repeated sounds or letters to create imagery, mood, or emphasis.
The wild wind wailed a maudlin melody.
- A Pun is a play on words. It uses the homonyms or different meanings of a word to create humour.
The past glared at the future perfect: it was a tense situation.
- Idioms are non-literal phrases that are commonly used by speakers of the same language. Every language has its own unique idioms. The below phrase is a common English idiom which means that it is raining heavily.
It’s raining cats and dogs.
Using figurative language to write effectively
Knowing your similes from your idioms is all well and good, but it won’t help you pass your assignment or make that sale. You need to put your knowledge into practice. Here are five ways that you can use figurative language to produce high-impact writing that captivates your reader.
Use sensory descriptions to immerse your reader
Your reader will be more engaged in your writing if you immerse them in your scenario. In other words, make them feel as though they are actually there with you. To do this, you’ll need to provide sensory descriptions – smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and textures. Figurative language offers a helping hand that makes your sensory descriptions more evocative. The below example uses alliteration and simile to describe the taste of a particular scotch whisky.
Talisker Skye has a smoky sweetness with maritime notes and a spicy edge,
rugged in beauty like a Hebridean island.
– Talisker Distillery, www.malts.com
Persuade your audience
Whether you’re proposing a theory or selling a product, you need to persuade your reader that your ideas are right. Obviously, you’ll need to provide evidence to support your claims, but figurative language can make your argument more persuasive. The example below uses a metaphor that compares racism to a disease. Think about how the phrase makes you feel. It creates a feeling of disgust, of something being damaging, harmful and repellent. This emphasises how damaging racism can be, and the importance of eliminating it.
Racism is a disease that must be eradicated.
Create emphasis and impact
Figurative language can be useful when you need to make an impact. It adds an extra layer of intensity to your statement. The sentence below is a commonly-used example of hyperbole that deliberately uses exaggeration to emphasise how hungry the person is. It is more effective than simply saying “I’m hungry”.
I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.
Make your material relatable
There’s no doubt that some subjects lack popular appeal. Thankfully, figurative language invokes commonly-shared experiences to make even the driest material relatable. The following quote uses personification to describe the writing and editing process:
The goal of text generation is to throw confused, wide-eyed words on a page; the goal of text revision is to scrub the words clean so that they sound nice and can go out in public.
– Paul J. Silvia
Anyone who has bathed an unruly child can relate to the image that Paul J. Silvia creates. The description perfectly captures the process of writing and editing, even for an audience less familiar with the subject.
We know that figurative language can help paint a picture in a reader’s mind, and sometimes that picture can help to add clarity to an idea or description. The example sentence uses a simile to compare the surface of a lake to a mirror, making it explicitly clear that the water is motionless.
The lake was perfectly still and smooth, like a mirror.
Hopefully this post has given you some ideas about how to use figurative language in your writing. If you’re looking for more in-depth help and advice, contact Wordsmiths by email or WhatsApp. Our editing service can help bring your writing to life, keeping your readers engaged in your message. To find out more about our editing services, check out our website. You can also follow us on Instagram and Facebook to get more tips on writing and editing. Don’t forget to sign up to our mailing list to receive our latest news and blog first.