8 ways to put the ka-pow of literary finesse in your crosshairs

I have a hard time remembering the difference between simile and metaphor. Many of the following terms I’ve heard, of course, but I never truly understood them. Now I do. And I can see how they could pump up the volume on my writing!

Simile – Where fundamentally unlike things are compared, used with “like” or “as” –

“Life is like an onion: You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.” -Carl Sandburg

Shrek: Ogres are like onions.

Donkey: They stink?

Shrek: Yes. No!

Donkey: They make you cry?

Shrek: No!

Donkey: You leave them out in the sun, they get all brown, start sprouting little white hairs.

Shrek: No! Layers! Onions have layers!

(Shrek, 2001)

“He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.” -Raymond Chandler

Metaphor – A figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that actually have something in common; something used to represent something else.

“The streets were a furnace, the sun an executioner.” -Cynthia Ozick, Rosa. Yup, like the Delaware beach parking lots in August.

Lenny: Hey, maybe there is no cabin. Maybe it’s one of them metaphorical things.

Carl: Oh yeah, yeah. Like maybe the cabin is the place inside each of us, created by our goodwill and teamwork.

Lenny: Nah, they said there would be sandwiches.

(The Simpsons)

Hyperbole – A figure of speech (a form of irony) in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect; an extravagant statement; an obvious, intentional exaggeration.

I have a bazillion reasons why I like the word “hyperbole.”

“Daphne, you can’t go. You have to stay. I’ve only just recently realized how important you are to us. You see, if you go, Dad and I will kill each other. I’m not just tossing out hyperbole here. I’m speaking in the most literal sense: Dad and I, both dead. Only he’ll be lying there with a bacteria-ridden sponge protruding from his mouth like a bloated tongue!” (And, hey, there’s a simile in there, too!)

(Frasier, 1996)

Allegory – The rhetorical strategy of extending a metaphor through an entire narrative so that objects, persons, and actions in the text are equated with meanings that lie outside the text; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another. An allegory can be in the form of music, art, or other form.

Uh, okay. What?

Modern allegories include the novels Animal Farm (1945) and The Lord of the Flies (1954).

I read Animal Farm in H.S. – I thought it was stupid and creepy, but that was before I understood allegory. I know – I’m still a bit clueless about allegory. I’m not even sure how to pronounce it.

I queried my writers’ group members, and they offered their take on allegory –

From Judy O’Brien Serrano – Something that is not quite literal but there, none the less.

From Tessa B. Dick – An allegory is an extended metaphor – for example, Aesop’s fables use animals as the characters, but they are about human behavior.

From Ilil Arbel  – The representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or
pictorial form; A story, picture, or play employing such representation. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick are allegories. A symbolic representation: The blindfolded figure with scales is an allegory of justice.

From Shawn Lamb – Regarding music – “Orpheus & the Underworld” is an example of a composer setting to music a journey into hell. “Peter & The Wolf” is an example of a folk tale set to music. Various instruments are used for the ‘characters’.

John Bernard (H.S. pal who I used to have a huge crush on) – “Some goofy way of saying that one thing represents another. Obvious stuff like parables or looking for the deeper meaning of what a character or figure represents.” (Crap, now I have to look up “parable.” Thanks, John.)

Since John brought up parable…

Parable – A parable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more principles or lessons. A parable is a short tale that illustrates a universal truth, one of the simplest of narratives. It sketches a setting, describes an action, and shows the results. It often involves a character facing a moral dilemma, or making a questionable decision and then suffering the consequences. And that includes folk tales, fables, and fairy tales.

The best know writer of parables is Jesus. The best-known source of parables in Christianity is The Bible. It contains numerous parables in the Gospels section of the New Testament. I can’t compete with Jesus so won’t offer any further explanation.

Rhetoric – The art of speaking or writing effectively; a skill in the effective use of speech; insincere or grandiloquent language. (Please don’t make me look up grandiloquent – y’all can figure it out, right?) Here’s another explanation –
undue exaggeration or display; to add drama or sarcasm.

Sarcasm is my middle name! So I must love rhetoric!

Example – A rhetorical question, like “Why me, Lord?” Think Tammy Faye Baker – but then that would be a hyperbole of mascara.

Rhetorical talkers – Would this describe a person who always has a more exaggerated story than you? A person who feels their experiences are more dire, more exciting, or more endearing than your own? Those people that talk and talk and you wish you could hit them with a hammer-like object (the hammer-like object – would that be a simile or a metaphor?).

Euphemism – The substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may not offend, as in “eliminate” for “kill.” Or “passed away” for “died.” Or, “unfriend” for “I’m tired of reading about how your life is so darn stupid and your life is soooo full of drama and you are starting to make me sick.”

Dr. House: I’m busy.

Thirteen: We need you to . . .

Dr. House: Actually, as you can see, I’m not busy. It’s just a euphemism for “get the hell out of here.”

(House, M.D.)

Irony – I wanted to post the definitions I found for irony, but it was all giving me a huge headache. So I decided to go with examples –

The procrastinators’ seminar has been postponed.

“My mother never saw the irony in calling me a son-of-a-bitch.” -Jack Nicholson

If you dare make a comment on this blog post, you must do so with a simile, metaphor, hyperbole, allegory, parable, rhetoric, euphemism, or irony – or at least with a little sarcasm. Come on, try it.

Sources –



Brainy Quote


The Free Dictionary



Filed under Branding & Platform, Words & Vocabulary

8 responses to “8 ways to put the ka-pow of literary finesse in your crosshairs

  1. I absolutely adored this post, darling. Your use of launguage was elegant and definitive(rhetoric and a little sarcasm. sorry, y’all and crap can’t be considered elegant, right?)The line about Tammy Faye and the hyperbole of mascara? It almost killed me, and that’s not hyperbole, I choked on my coffee! Great post, and if my use of rhetoric is weak as cheap toilet paper, don’t unfriend me, k?;)

  2. busby777

    Your post is like a breath of fresh air. Now, can you define cliche?

  3. “Men are like a box of chocolates…only the nutty ones are left.”
    Your post was like fresh buttered toast on a Sunday morning, crusty round the edges, soft and melty in the middle.
    Your examples of similies, metaphors (btw have you read “I never Met-a-Phor I didn’t like”? It’s really cute), allegories, parables and hyperbole were superlative to say the least, leaving me breathless with the sheer joy of the english language!
    *Is this comment hyperbole, rhetoric or just plain crapping on…? LOL 🙂
    Really did enjoy this post!

  4. Never met a phor – looks like a fun read. Also – Oxymoronica. Like fresh buttered toast on a Sunday … yes! Thanks for commenting!

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