Similes and Metaphors
Using Similes and Metaphors in your writing is like using seasoning in cooking. It flavours it. Your writing will come alive and jump off the page. See what I did there? Fun isn’t it?
'Simile: the comparison of two unlike things using the word ‘like’ or ‘as’. ‘The biscuit tasted like a coat button.’ ‘It’s as black as troll poo in here.’ Both examples from Jen Storer's own work.
Use sparingly. Contrary to what Miss Sternberger might have said, creative writing does not revolve around similes and metaphors.
Metaphor: a figure of speech wherein one thing is not only compared to another, it is said to be that other. Macbeth says that life is a pathetic actor, not that it is like a pathetic actor. Thus he is speaking metaphorically:
‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’'
From Jen Storer's blog, 10 Literary Devices. Or How to Zhoosh Up Your Creative Writing
At this month’s writer’s group I decided to look this use of metaphors and similes in writing. I love reading, and reading widely. The following are three examples from three different books by three authors whose books that I have read recently. I found that they use simile and metaphors in their writing that enriches the reading experience.
‘He made his way down broken storm-littered roads out to La Incoerenza, the Bliss Estate. Outside the storm had been even wilder. Lightening bolts like immense crooked pillars joined La Incoerenza to the skies, and order, which Henry James warned was only a man’s dream of the universe, disintegrated beneath the power of chaos, which was nature’s law. Above the gates of the estate a live wire swung dangerously, with death at its tip. When it touched the gates blue lightning crackled along the bars. The old house stood firm but the river had burst its banks and risen up like a giant lamprey all mud and teeth and swallowed the grounds in a single gulp.’
Page 23 Two Years Eight Months & Twenty Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie.
‘After that they saw only forest for several hours, but come evening they arrived at a country cottage abandoned by its owners. Two muscular trees had demolished the place, although they grew on either side of the building. Where their boughs had met they had done so like the punches of boxers, and remained outstretched in jabs and hooks. The cottage’s centremost rooms had been bludgeoned the hardest, but there was shelter to be had in half a sitting room, secure on the leftmost side of the house.’
Page 77 The Trees by Ali Shaw
‘It became clear to Albie that he had done very little with his life, and seeing it paraded before him convinced him that he’d had enough. So right there and then, Albie made another decision. He decided to leave. Quietly he rose, lightly as an angel. The water slipped by him like a satin cloak and he emerged through the surface with more grace and confidence than he had experienced in his life.’
Page 8 Tensy Farlow and the Home of Mislaid Children by Jen Storer
These are gorgeous descriptions that paint amazing pictures in your mind as you read. These authors seemed to sprinkle similes and metaphors (although with Salman it is liberally sprinkled), as well as using other ways of describing people, places, objects and situations.
A word of caution
There was one book I read that read that I end up putting down as there was just too many similes and metaphors in the text. At one point the author used three of these devices to describe one thing. I got bogged down in trying to decipher what the author had meant. In the end I lost the thread of the story and had no idea what was happening.
The reality is that we all use similes and metaphors on a daily basis, often without even thinking about it. This can be a trap for writers. Many of these similes and metaphors are so well known that we instinctively reach for them as we write. Instead, we should mix things up and breathe some freshness into our writing or else our writing will come off as trite.
Writer’s Group Activity:
Take a well known metaphor and re-write it within a context. (Same meaning but fresher)
A heart of stone (A person is said to have a heart of stone when they cannot show sympathy or they are very cold towards you)
"Watching Peter asses the girls' injury, he peered at her with a icy clinical glance. The glacier which formed his fractal heart showed no signs of shifting or melting." Jacqui.
Elephant in the room (An obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about)
"It sat between them like the rotten core of an apple. Each taking tentative bites around the edges, avoiding the centre." Ester
Fear is a beast that feeds on attention. (Often times fear is just the warning but it can quickly turn into a beast)
“Her fear intensified as their criticisms stuck fast as surely as needles to a magnet.” Anita
As I was have an off day due to two ear infections I could not think of a way to rewrite A stitch in time saves nine. (Get things done on time a prevent yourself from having more work later). So I wrote how I was feeling instead.
"My mind is a fog bank and the words flick out of reach like shadows."
So this was a lightening quick run down of the use of similes and metaphors to jazz up your writing. I love to share as I learn, so if you have anything to add, please feel free to share in the comments.
To sum up:
1. Use metaphors and similes sparingly.
2. Use metaphors that will extend the description of what the story is about.
3. Metaphors are often better to use and gives a more powerful description than a simile.
Jen Storer has written a great blog post over on her Girl and Duck website. It is titled 10 Literary Devices. Or Ways to Zhoosh Up Your Creative Writing. I've just started on my first novel, so this will certainly come in handy to really enrich my writing. Check it out...and happy writing.
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