Two Power Tools in the Writer’s Garden Shed
I teach Sunday School to junior high and high school students. Last spring we went through a unit on prophecy, focusing on the book of Revelation. Much to the dismay of the students, who were ready to dive head first into the apocalypse, I had to give them an English lesson first. Why? Because as I studied and prepared my lessons I realized that they couldn’t possibly understand what I was about to teach them without understanding the concepts of simile and metaphor. The book of Revelation is full of them. The author used simile and metaphor repeatedly to convey difficult to understand images, relating them to everyday things that everyone would understand.
Simile uses “like” or “as” to make a comparison—“Her lips were as red as a rose.”
Metaphor nixes the “like” or “as” to make the comparison—“Her lips were rose red.”
A well placed simile or metaphor draws actions, emotions, and thoughts out of the abstract and anchors them, giving them a visceral punch that the reader can smell and feel and see and hear and taste.
Sitting beside him, his rank breath wafted my way.
Sitting beside him, I aimed my nose at the open window. His breath was like following a garbage truck on a hundred degree day.
We get his breath was bad in the first sentence, but the second defines it. It’s not garlic breath or coffee breath. No—it’s hot rot.
Here’s the trouble with simile and metaphor: our language is full of them and most that we’ve heard and that spring to mind are cliché. Lips as red as a rose. Skin as white as snow. So hot you could fry an egg on it. Hotter than noon on the fourth of July.
A few colourful similes I grew up with: Slower than molasses in the wintertime. I’m going to beat you like a red headed step child. (I was really glad to be a brown haired step child) So ugly only a mother could love. Colder than a witch’s tit in a brass bra. I’m not really sure how cold that is, but brass is a good conductor. Brrrr.
Clichés are off limits for writers unless it’s a part of dialogue and that type of cliché simile is part of your character’s speech pattern. And please don’t overdo it. Similes and metaphors should be used strategically. There’s nothing worse than having them gumming up every other sentence. Use them in places where the imagery is important and where you want to drive the message home to the reader.
If a writer wants to employ simile and metaphor, they must make up their own. And here’s where I groan. Uggh! I don’t have a poetic bone in my body. My fellow blogger and Vast Imaginations member, Christina, had a fantastic idea. Since a couple of us struggled with this, she suggested spending part of our meeting brainstorming similes and writing them down in our notebooks for future use. It’s an exercise that I think could benefit all writers.
Below is a list of simile starters. You fill in the blanks. Be creative. Hint: make the simile unique to your protagonist, involving their interests and world view. (e.g. a dog lover might find a something “cuter than a pug puppy”)
Post some of your favourites as comments below. At the end I’ll share some of mine, but I warn you, my sense of humour tends to degrade to that of a thirteen year old boy.
As smart as… Sharp like… As funny as…
As tall as… As dry as… Out of tune like…
As lonely as… As impossible as… Round like…
Foamy like… As wide as… As crunchy as…
As dark as… As red as… As creative as…
As expertly as… As messy as… As curious as…
As hot as… As slippery as… As wet as…
Boring like… Danced like… As pure as…
As angry as… As cruel as… Cool like…
Here’s a few I came up with:
As hot as a cell phone tucked in the bra.
As cool as Elvis riding a flying motorcycle.
As wet as peeled grapes.
As slow as grandma counting pennies at the grocery check-out.
As dry as cracked heels.
As impossible as crapping a watermelon.
As curious as a monkey in an outhouse.
As crazy as a poodle on crack.
As messy as Martha Stewart’s finances.
Melinda Friesen writes novels for teens and short stories for the young and the young at heart. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband and four children.