In this post, we ask and answer the questions: ‘What is an analogy?’ and ‘How do I write one?’
What Is An Analogy?
When you draw an analogy between two things, you compare them for the purpose of explanation. These comparisons should create vivid images that highlight sensory details in the minds of readers.
An analogy is a literary technique that shows how two things are alike, but with the goal of making a point about this comparison.
An analogy takes an abstract idea and makes it concrete for a reader.
Often, we create an analogy when we explain how an idea reminds us of something else.
Analogies, Similes, Metaphors
Remember that analogies are not the same as similes and metaphors. Literary Terms says: ‘…they are actually very different, specifically because an analogy is a rhetorical device, not a figure of speech. While similes and metaphors are generally quite short and simple, analogies are more elaborate and explanatory, because they support arguments.’
An analogy often takes a simile or a metaphor and expands on it.
- If you say, ‘Life is like a rollercoaster.’, you are using a simile.
- If you say, ‘Life is a rollercoaster.’, you are using a metaphor.
- If you expand on it and say, ‘Life is just a rollercoaster, full of ups and downs, filled with moments of terror, anticipation, and exhilaration. There are stretches of calm, followed by uphill struggles, and wild falls.’, then you are using an analogy.
- ‘People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.’ ~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
- ‘It has been well said that an author who expects results from a first novel is in a position similar to that of a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon of Arizona and listens for the echo.’ ~P.G. Wodehouse
- ‘What gunpowder did for war the printing press has done for the mind.’ ~Wendell Phillips, Public Opinion on the Abolition Question (via)
- ‘Evolution is a blind giant who rolls a snowball down a hill. The ball is made of flakes—circumstances. They contribute to the mass without knowing it. They adhere without intention, and without foreseeing what is to result. When they see the result they marvel at the monster ball and wonder how the contriving of it came to be originally thought out and planned. Whereas there was no such planning, there was only a law: the ball once started, all the circumstances that happened to lie in its path would help to build it, in spite of themselves.’ ~Mark Twain, Tales of Wonder (via)
- ‘Pupils are more like oysters than sausages. The job of teaching is not to stuff them and then seal them up, but to help them open and reveal the riches within. There are pearls in each of us, if only we knew how to cultivate them with ardour and persistence.’ ~Sydney J. Harris, What True Education Should Do (via)
- ‘Some basic facts about memory are clear. Your short-term memory is like the RAM on a computer: it records the information in front of you right now. Some of what you experience seems to evaporate–like words that go missing when you turn off your computer without hitting SAVE. But other short-term memories go through a molecular process called consolidation: they’re downloaded onto the hard drive. These long-term memories, filled with past loves and losses and fears, stay dormant until you call them up.’ ~Claudia Kalb, ‘To Pluck a Rooted Sorrow’, Newsweek, April 27, 2009 (via)
How Do I Write One?
A good analogy has to be reasonable. It is only useful if it remains vivid and logical. In other words, use it when it illustrates what you need to say naturally. It should never be forced or unbelievable.
Use an analogy when you want to create a lasting image in your audience’s mind – something they can take away from an essay or a story that stays with them. Use it when you are trying to explain something complex in a simple way.
- Use common, easy-to-imagine and understand images. You are trying to get you reader to understand something complicated so don’t make it difficult for them by using an obscure image.
- Make sure that you are using a concrete image. Do not compare one abstract idea with another abstract idea.
- Make the two aspects of the images that you want to compare clear. If you compare a pop star to a queen, you are probably going to compare the way the two are treated in the world. They both get the best treatment wherever they go. But you would not compare their powers as the two are very different.
- Try to make it suit the setting of your story. If you’re writing about a relationship set on an island, try to use the ocean, the beaches, and the tides in your analogies.
- Make it at least tow or three sentences long to get the point across. Make your statement and then explain it.
- Once you get your point across, stop. Don’t overdo it.
Exercise: Create your own analogies for growing up, marriage, getting divorced, grief, and love.
by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson
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