HOW TO USE SIMILES APPROPRIATELY
Flashback to the old: similes are comparisons that use “like” or “as.” “As big as a horse” or “looked like a dragon” are both similes. Some novels don’t use any. Others use too many. There has to be a balance.
Think about it. You have an understanding of the world that you’ve created, but who else does? No one. That’s why the reader is reading your story.
She wants to know what’s in your head as is experienced through the eyes of your main character.
Say your main character is a ten year-old girl named Elizabeth. No one knows how small she is but you. No one knows how big her dad is but you. No one knows anything about her but you. Similes are like little ropes that wrap around the reader’s brain so that we can understand what you’re trying to say.
Take a look at this simile-less prose:
Elizabeth was very tiny. She still played with her stuffed animals, even though she was ten. But her mean dad didn’t like it. He’d always snatch them out her arms with his huge hands.
Not bad, right? We get to see how Elizabeth feels about her animals. We see that she knows she’s getting too old for them. But there are two things that we still don’t know: how tiny she is and how big her dad’s hands are. The reader will usually forgive us for this oversight and keep reading. But we are left to visualize these two missing links ourselves.
Let’s Indiana-Jones the reader…I mean lasso them with our similes.
Elizabeth was almost as tall as that three-and-half foot teddy bear that her brother won for her at the carnival last week. She still played with her stuffed animals, even though she was ten. But her mean dad didn’t like it. He’d always snatch them out her arms with hands that were as thick as softballs.
Now we have a clear picture of how small this girl really is. If she’s ten, she should certainly be taller than a three-and-half foot bear. She must have a nice brother to give her something that she loves even though her dad doesn’t like it. Wait. Was that her half-brother or her full brother? Why would her brother want to defy her father? And what did her dad do for a living that made his hands so large?
So many questions come up with just these two similes that would have otherwise never come to mind had we simply used “tiny” and “big.” Keep in mind that we are not trying to overdo it with comparisons, but they certainly help.
Thanks for stopping by! Tomorrow we are going discuss metaphors– the other white meat.
I’m hyper-aware of this issue at the moment because the WIP I’m working on is a fantasy piece and so a lot of similes are creeping into the writing as I try to get the reader to see what I’m seeing in my head.
But I’m definitely going over them in the editing process to make sure the prose isn’t weighed down by simile.
I think it’s also interesting to use similes in odd ways, using imagery that isn’t the obvious choice, you know? Like not using the blue of an ocean or sky to describe something blue, or hard as a rock, brave as a lion, meek as a lamb.
I think authors should strive for less obvious choices; like Cookie Monster-blue, meek as a wallflower, hard as a mule is stubborn etc.
Great post, as usual. I really enjoy your posts; they’re snappy and to the point. 🙂
Thanks, so much Layla! I really appreciate your feedback. And writing these blogs is certainly a joy.
It can be tought to get rid of the meaningless similes while making sure to include ones that drive the point home.
And yeah. As blue as the ocean and as hard as a rock have become as watered down as gas station coffee 😉
Its tough to be original, or at least avoid overused cliches with similes. But I like their power to create a stronger visual. Thanks !
Thanks! And you’re right, but I guess that’s what we writers have to ahead us.
Reblogged this on christinaow.
whatever i’ve been reading, they’ve been balancing them well because similes stand out when i hear them. if someone were using them too much, i’d probably say, “okay, enough of that.”
Yup! That’s what makes them difficult to use. Creating a simile is as easy as pie (simile). But, being creative with them is tough. But a well used simile makes a huge difference.
Hey, Bill – nothing like a snappy simile to get my attention. Luv ‘em like Lindor truffles. An artist uses similes like a cook uses seasoning. Too many similes, like too much pepper, can ruin a good sauce. Using too many similes? Watch out – it makes the metaphors jealous.
hahah I like that Diana.