What is Figurative Language?

Examples of Imagery by Great Authors

Figurative language makes your writing come alive! The creative writing tips on this page show you how to use figures of speech such as metaphors, similes, personification, hyperboles, oxymoron, synecdoche and more, to improve your writing skills.

Creative Writing Tips on Use of Figurative Language: Examples of Metaphors

When we use a metaphor, we imply a comparison (indirectly, without using the word as or like) between an idea or quality and a concrete picture.

For example, the abstract idea of lost years comes alive when we pair it with an action picture: the years the swarming locusts have eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar.
(From The Bible, Joel 2:25)

Metaphors can also create a mood:
Her eyes are homes of silent prayer,
Nor other thought her mind admits...

(From In Memoriam, by Alfred Lord Tennyson)


Creative Writing Tips on Use of Figurative Language: Examples of Similes

A simile sharpens and enhances an idea through direct association or comparison with concrete images, using the word as or like. Examples:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills...

(From I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, by William Wordsworth)

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea...

(From The Destruction of Sennacherib, by Lord Byron)


Creative Writing Tips on Use of Figurative Language: Examples of Personification

Here, we bring ideas and objects to life by treating them as though they were human. This is how one author has infused warmth and personality into commonplace fruit and vegetables:

Ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by... Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy... and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner.
(From A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens)


Creative Writing Tips on Use of Figurative Language: Examples of Irony

Irony spices up your writing; by implying the opposite of what is actually said, irony creates nuances that intrigue readers and add to their enjoyment. The effect can range from lighthearted humor to biting sarcasm or ridicule:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
(From Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen)

Already you are full! Already you are rich! You have become kings - and that without us! I would to God you really had become kings, that we also might be kings with you... We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are so wise in Christ!
(From Paul's Letter to the Corinthians: The Bible, 1 Corinthians 4: 8, 10)


Creative Writing Tips on Use of Figurative Language: Examples of Hyperbole

This is an overstatement or deliberate exaggeration, used to create humor or emphasize a point:

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day...
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest.
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

(From To His Coy Mistress, by Andrew Marvell)


Creative Writing Tips on Use of Figurative Language: Examples of Understatement

An understatement, or litotes, is the opposite of a hyperbole. We use it for irony or emphasis.

Examples: He was a little displeased (meaning: he was furious); How was the concert? Not bad at all (meaning: it was very good).


Creative Writing Tips on Use of Figurative Language: Examples of Oxymora ("Oxymorons")

Here, we juxtapose two opposites for a seeming contradiction or paradox; nevertheless this contrast conveys precisely the meaning we intend, and the unexpected word combination grabs the reader's attention. Examples: proud humility; cold hospitality; thunderous silence.

An oxymoron can evoke fresh, vigorous images: for example, this description of goldfish in a bowl that went gasping round and round their little world in slow and passionless excitement.
(From A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens)


Creative Writing Tips on Use of Figurative Language: Examples of Synecdoche

Here we use the specific to represent the general (or vice versa); or a part to represent the whole (or vice versa); or a person to represent a class (or vice versa): useful for replacing vague or colorless words with vibrant images.

For example, sceptre and crown to represent rulers; scythe and spade to represent peasants, as in:

Sceptre and Crown
Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.

(From Death the Leveller, by James Shirley)


For more tips on how to make your writing come alive, visit:

Creative Writing: Success Secrets of Top Authors
Effective Writing: How to Improve Writing Skills
Good Word Choice: Denotations and Connotations
Action Verbs Get Readers' Attention
Sparks Fly with Dramatic Dialogue

Writing a story? Visit How to Write a Book: Creative Story Writing Tips that Work!

Return from Figurative Language to Creative Writing: Write to Win Hearts.


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