Amber Morn
Brandilyn Collins

Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling novelist known for her trademark Seatbelt Suspense™. These harrowing crime thrillers have earned her the tagline “Don’t forget to b r e a t h e …®”. She writes for Zondervan, the Christian division of HarperCollins Publishers, and is currently at work on her 19th book. Her first, A Question of Innocence, was a true crime published by Avon in 1995 and landed her on local and national TV and radio, including the Phil Donahue and Leeza talk shows. She’s also known for her distinctive book on fiction-writing techniques, Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors (John Wiley & Sons), and often teaches at writers conferences.
Visit her blog at Forensics and Faith, and her website at Brandilyn to read the first chapters of all her books.

Tangled in the Eyes of a Mixed Metaphor

I am a great fan of the mixed metaphor. There’s something so fresh, so invigorating about blending two wildly disparate bits of description. Oh, the visions that arise.

“You’ve buttered your bread; now lie in it!” (Jiminy Cricket.)

Yes, mixed metaphors are fun—when they’re intended. And they can create quite a laugh when they slip from someone’s mouth unintentionally, craftily created by the subconscious. (You’ve got to admit the subconscious is often a sleeping giant ready to explode.) One of my favorites blurted from a friend of mine during a discussion of a decision she faced: “But that would be putting the cart before the egg.”

Can’t you just see that scene? The little red cart, the bridle lines, the dragged egg, now worn and cracked? Talk about the ultimate picture of poor planning.

Then there’s this one: I’m going to stick my neck out on a limb.


And others:

If that were true, why are such sanguine voices shrugging it off?

This job is a real albatross around my neck.

Yeah, yeah, but an open mind can be a double-edged sword.

That’s a lot of baggage for a sitting duck.

We can laugh about all of these. But what about the mixed metaphors that slip into our writing? Take these sentences that I’ve spotted:

In the chasm between them, his belated apology made not a single dent.

The bonfire of his desire could not quench the fear in her heart.

In the sea of life, there are many crossroads.

Even Shakespeare managed a mixed metaphor: “. . . take arms against a sea of troubles.”

When I need some serious procrastination, I’ve been known to make up a few mixed metaphors of my own. (Somewhere along the way the budding wires of my emotional development must have knitted when they should have purled.)

The tracks of her empathetic tears cemented their friendship.

That politician is too lame-duck to take this hot-button bull by the horns.

Her cheeks blossomed with color, erasing the fire in her eyes.

He’ll take you down a rosy path, then turn it on its head!

The white elephant in the family living room is the ball and chain of his existence.

The stain of his guilt sank talons into his soul.

The sputtering engine of his wild choices hung him on the wrong side of the fence.

A diamond in the rough can’t afford to spit into the wind.

Enough examples. The call of this article now gestures for me to get on with my points. The weight of my responsibility to teach you something smoke-signals me to issue a challenge: Have you allowed a mixed metaphor to slip into your writing?

1. Find your sentences that use metaphor. (Remember, a metaphor is a direct comparison. A simile uses words such as like or as. But similes can be mixed, too.)

2. Read the sentence carefully. Does your metaphor work with the verb?

A caravan of ideas sailed through my head. (Last time I checked, caravans don’t sail.)

3. Read the sentence again. Does your metaphor work with the rest of the description?

She rode the wind of their siren song. (A siren song is heard; the wind is not.) I felt awash in their blazing hypnotism (really?), captive to the tide of their fiery darts (do tell), crushed beneath the heat of their—


Have you come up with a great mixed metaphor? Send it to me. We’ll laugh over it. Just keep it out of your writing.