Marianne Musgrove’s Terrific Writing Tips

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Marianne Musgrove back to DeeScribe Writing. Marianne has generously agreed to share some of her fabulous tips on writing.

Marianne Musgrove is an award winning author of such titles as The Worry Tree and Don’t Breathe a Word. She is also a descendant of King Henry VIII’s librarian so books are in her blood!

She is touring the blogosphere to celebrate the release of her latest book, The Beginner’s Guide to Revenge – a funny, moving tale of two teenagers who dabble in the art of revenge only to discover it may not be as sweet as they first imagined.

Making the Most of Metaphors – by Marianne Musgrove

Before I had a book contract, I had a dream one night that I was sitting in a publisher’s office. The publisher leaned forward and said, ‘So, Marianne, how much do you want this?’. My response was to remove my right arm and place it on the desk between us. Apparently, I was willing to give my right arm to be an author!

This dream goes to show how deep metaphors run in the psyche of we humans. They help us understand ourselves and others, and for this reason, metaphors are one of the most useful implements in a writer’s toolbox. Used well, they deepen the meaning of a simple story, exploring ideas, characters’ motives and feelings. Over-used, they render a story forced and awkward. Under-used, the story remains one-dimensional.

Tip 1: Consider the age of your audience

Children don’t develop the ability to understand concepts until around the age of twelve. For this reason, relying on metaphors to convey the meaning of your story will go over the heads of younger readers. While it’s great to use metaphors, make sure the plot stands on its own merit.

Tip 2: First person versus third person

If you’re writing your story in first person, the age of the character will determine the degree of sophistication of their metaphors. If your character is young and you’re keen to use complex images, consider writing in the third person. That said …

Tip 3: The exception to the rule

In my new book, The Beginner’s Guide to Revenge, I’ve used the metaphor of ANZAC Day to explore the themes of conflict, forgiveness, and letting go of the past. The story switches between the first person perspectives of two thirteen year olds, Romola and Sebastian. Even though these characters are unaware of the significance of the ANZAC Day metaphor, the reader is able to draw similarities between the ANZACs and the conflict in the private lives of the characters.

Tip 4: Less is more

I suffer from excessive metaphoritis. Once it comes time to edit, I comb through my manuscript and note how many metaphors I’ve use in any given scene, usually cutting back the number. Try not to have more than one per paragraph. Metaphors should support and enrich the story, not the other way round.

Tip 5: Keeping track

After the first draft, I get out my coloured post-it notes and assign a different colour for each major metaphor. I stick the relevant post-it on the corresponding plot card wherever I’ve mentioned said metaphor. The post-its give me a sense of how spaced out the references are. If there’re all grouped together at the beginning, I revisit the manuscript and amend accordingly.

Images bring a story to life. Use them wisely and well!

— Marianne Musgrove


24 thoughts on “Marianne Musgrove’s Terrific Writing Tips

  1. Great post Marianne and Dee. I, as a poet, LOVE metaphor and simile but what I’ve found over the years is the over use or misuse even of the simile “as if”. For example – he slumped to the ground as if he were made of lead. For me the second part is unnecessary. We must trust that the reader understands that if we slump to the ground we are probably feeling weighted down. Just a little observation 🙂

  2. Thanks for your comments, Jackie:)

    I totally agree. I must admit I have a tendency to overdo the simile and metaphor at times…and it can overload the reader with images…and definitely, some similes detract from the piece rather than enhance it. Always a fine line with writing isn’t it?:)


  3. Thanks Dee and Marianne for this helpful post. I am an underuser of similes and metaphors, as they don’t come to me while I’m writing yet I am someone who makes analogies all the time in life. Is there a natural way to get similes and metaphors flowing in your mind while writing? I would love to use them more.

  4. Thanks Kaye,

    I find that for me the best way to get similes and metaphors flowing is to try and think visually while I write…I try and think about where the character is and what they are doing…and what that reminds me of. For me, it’s about stretching myself as a writer and trying to come up with new, original and visual ways to describe things.


  5. Hi Kaye

    I find immersing myself in poetry unleashes the metaphors and similes. I also keep an exercise book of metaphors that I’ve collected over the years from books and poems. I read over these, let them sink in, then start writing. It’s amazing what comes out.


  6. Hi Jackie

    I couldn’t agree more. In my opinion, the only time it’s good to include a simile is if it adds a new dimension to the image. For example, in my new book, I describe a hot air balloon rising like a loaf of bread in the oven. In many ways, every one knows how a hot air balloon rises. However, I also wanted to convey a sense of hope, of new life, of something positive rising in the character, and I felt the bread image did this so I left it in. In other parts of my novel, I slashed and burned similes (Quite frankly – it was a blood bath!) because they were redundant.


  7. Wonderful post, Marianne and Dee. Great tips.
    Metaphors can add a wonderful extra layer in writing. And great to plant for younger readers, though I agree with tip 1 not to make the metaphor/s carry the meaning of the story for under twelves. I love tip 5 too for keeping track to ensure metaphors are well spaced. Something to look out for and now a great technique to “keep track”.

    Congratulations, Marianne on the release of your new book “The Beginner’s Guide to Revenge. I wish you and it every success.
    Thank you again for the great post.

  8. Thanks Marianne. I like your idea of keeping a book of metaphors and poetry does bring magic to writing doesn’t it. I love the sound of your new book, all the very best with it and I am looking forward to reading it.

  9. Great post Dee and Marianne. I find it fascinating to actually keep track of your metaphor usage in a novel. I loved the description of the added bit about bread rising to convey a sense of hope to that part of your novel.
    Hope your novel flies off the shelves. I’ll look out for it!

  10. One benefit of being sidelined by a broken foot is that I get to do things like read books like Marianne’s new release The Beginner’s Guide to Revenge. Brilliant read. Well done Marianne. Your characters Romola and Sebastian were so well drawn and three-dimensional. There was definitely no hint of metaphoritis! Vicki

  11. Thanks, Chris! My latest book baby involved a very long labour, not to mention accompanying labour pains, so I’m pleased (relieved!) it’s finally on the shelves.


  12. Hi Vicki

    So glad you enjoyed my book. I don’t think I’ve ever thought so much about metaphors as when I was writing it! Hope your foot is healing well, but in the mean time, enjoy the extra book reading time 🙂


  13. Another awesome post Dee! And Marianne, until I’d reached Tip 4, I had no idea of the name of the condition of which I am severely conflicted with. Thank you for clearing it up! I adore metaphors and similes as much as long hair but you’ve reminded me that I should never be afraid of getting out the trimming scissors now and then. Thank you both. Dimity

  14. Great post. As a reader, I love lots of imagery, but I totally agree with the point about the age appropriateness – younger kids are concrete thinkers, metaphors are abstract. Similes on the other hand can be fun! However, bad similes are as annoying as a hungry cat (see? Lousy simile). I think if a simile works, it blends in beautifully and a manuscript can tolerate an overdose.

  15. Thanks Jo,

    That’s true about imagery being age appropriate…and having to blend in. They have to earn their place in the story.

    For some reason I have a tendency to use a lot of similes and metaphors at the start of a piece of writing…and recently my 13 year old-son (who is thankfully, a very critical reader) told me I’d overdone the similes and metaphors at the start but they tapered off and were okay after that:)


  16. Hi Jo

    You’re so right about the beauty of similes. Arundhati Roy, one of my favourite authors, is the master of the simile. Here’s are three of my favourites that I collected from “The God of Small Things”:
    ” … the yellow church swelled like a throat with the sound of sad singing”.

    “The Loss of Sophie Mol stepped softly around the Ayemenem House like a quiet thing in socks.”

    “That expression on Ammu’s face … Like a question mark that drifted through the pages of a book and never settled at the end of a sentence.”


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