A metaphor is a figure of speech that makes an implied comparison between two things that are categorically different, but actually share something significant in common. While used heavily in creative works, such as poetry and song, this type of figurative language can also be used to give ordinary writing color and personality.
Visual metaphors are the most commonly-used form of metaphor in almost all of writing. You can see them employed heavily everywhere, from advertising copy to creative fiction to news features. Using a visual image to suggest a point of similarity, they help enhance the meaning and clarity of prose.
There are many ways to structure visual metaphors. Here are a few of the most popular:
- Root metaphor. A metaphor that is so embedded in the language that people rarely realize it is one. Example: “Time is gold.”
- Extended metaphor. As the name implies, this metaphor develops the subject at length, allowing you to highlight comparisons in a more intense manner than simple metaphors. To do that, the principal subject is set up with multiple comparisons. A lot of rap songs are ripe with this type of technique, pulling bar after bar of comparisons, leading to a punch line at the end.
- Absolute metaphor. This makes a comparison between two items that have no apparent point of resemblance, creating a strong image when you put them together. Example: “VH1 has evolved into the toilet bowl of cable TV.”
- Implicit metaphor. In this type of comparison, the full subject is implied, rather than explicitly stated from the context of the sentence. This is frequently used in situations when the subject is sufficiently well-known, so explaining in detail isn’t necessary. Example: “The group executed like a well-oiled machine.”
- Complex metaphor. This is a comparison where the meaning is expressed using more than one figurative term. The metaphorical references are layered, creating a more elaborate description. Example: “He stood proud but alone, a frozen statue unable to attract a crowd to gather around it.”
- Mixed metaphor. Here, you use a primary subject, then follow it up with a secondary subject for comparison. The more inconsistent the second is with the first, the stronger the effect. Example: “If we can hit that bullseye, then the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards.”
- Submerged metaphor. In this type of figurative comparison, one of the terms is implied rather than explicitly stated. You have to be able to imagine the bigger picture in order to catch the actual meaning. Example: “The idea was a layup; we needed a three to win.”