Add metaphors and allusion to add sensory details and style

We talked about how adding alliteration, simile and hyperbole can improve the number of details and style of writing. These three figures of speech are usually the easiest for children to fit into their writing, but with practice, other kinds, including metaphor and allusions, can become easy.

Metaphors are indirect comparisons. “Like” and “as” are not used, causing children to wonder how to incorporate metaphors into their writing. Start by using “is” and say something is something else, especially if the something else seems odd or far-fetched. For example, “My dog is my guardian angel.” Or, “My cat is a mouse exterminator.” Or, “My dog is my alarm clock.”

a mountain of books to read

A mountain of books to read.

Next, try leaving out “is.” “My guardian angel, Buster, smelled the fire before I did.” “On the farm, Angel transformed from a sweet, purring friend into a mouse-pouncing exterminator.” “Buster, my alarm clock, keeps me on time for the school bus.”

Metaphors usually require more practice than similes, but they are powerful sensory comparisons, capable of bringing more style than similes do to writing.

Allusions are references to commonly understood myths, stories, people or works of art. The Bible and Shakespeare’s writing are commonly used as allusions in the West. But there is no reason Harry Potter, Percy Jackson or Goldilocks can’t be used. For example, if a child is writing about an annoyed mother, who is telling her son to come out of his room, the mother could say, “You better come out or I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your door down.” Notice that in this example, the big, bad wolf from the Three Little Pigs is alluded to but not named. Or in describing a big sister, a young writer could say, “She has the looks of Sleeping Beauty and the brains of Hermione Granger.”

To make an allusion work, the writer must know his audience well enough to believe that his readers are familiar with the reference he is making; if not, the allusion is lost. Even if every reader isn’t in on the allusion, child writers should be encouraged to try them. J. K. Rowling used allusions when naming some of the characters in her books. For example, by naming Professor Snape with a name that sounds so much like snake, J. K. Rowling intends readers to think of bad, snake associations.

Most rubrics for student writing include figures of speech as desirable elements to improve the style of a student’s writing. But on their own, most students don’t think to include figures of speech in their writing. These elements must be practiced and pointed out to make the student comfortable with them.

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