Inside the Simile

Last week I took an inside look at Metaphors, so today I thought Similes needed some love. Because of their ease in use, most writers already incorporate similes and understand what they are. However, for posterity, Friend Wiki states: A simile is a figure of speech that indirectly compares two different things by employing conjunctions (e.g. the words "like", "as", or "than").

Similes are often easier to come up with, because 'like or as' (the most commonly used conjunctions) can form a quick comparison without worrying about being deeply meaningful or symbolic. There's also some wiggle room as simile comparisons are adaptable, which allows the opportunity to inject voice, humor or the POV character's outlook into the wording.

For example:

Margo was a surgeon, cutting her dinner into precise bites. (metaphor)

Margo ate like a surgeon with OCD, cutting her dinner into precise bite-sized pieces before manically sorting them according to color, texture and shape. (simile)

Jim's stained undershirt was an artful collage of food he'd eaten this week. (metaphor)

Jim's undershirt read like a lunch menu from a greasy spoon diner--chili dogs, spray cheese and grape soda. (simile)

As you can see, the ability to tweak what's being compared allows us to better show some wit and personality, making this a popular figure of speech. Of course, this leads to a very common problem among writers...simile overload.

SIMILE ABUSE

Many of us love similes a little too much. Tools like AutoCrit and  Wordle can be helpful to gauge your usage--dump in a chunk of your story and see what pops out the other side. If you start seeing loads of 'likes' showing up, chances are you are abusing similes in your writing. This is something that we need to correct, because if the reader starts picking up on the 'like or as' constructions, it means they are noticing the writing, which pulls them out of the story.

This is a weakness of mine. I have to really go through my work and weed out this particular figure of speech. Once I had a crit partner tell me my book looked like I took a bag of similes and dumped them on top of my manuscript. The truth behind the statement was not lost on me (nor was the very visual and ironic use of simile in her comment!)

Curb your simile addiction and trundle down to my metaphor post. Take a look at how to craft metaphors and also think about creating evocative, sensory description that does not require a figure of speech. Strong writing comes from using a variety of stylistic methods to convey meaning, but never relying on any one technique too much.

20 comments:

Holly Ruggiero said...

Love this post.

Melissa Gill said...

I have a tendency to overuse similies myself. Thanks for the links, that will really help.

Misha said...

I have the opposite problem.

My book is currently low on imagery of any sort, due to the fact that my number one concern is getting the story down.

I'll watch for simile abuse in my second draft though.

:-)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great post, Angela! I once critted a ms for a writer who was talented with metaphors and similies. Like you said, they would have been wonderful if just sprinkled in. But instead, they kept yanking me out of the story because they were too many of them. Way too many of them.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

*bows at your feet* All hail Queen Angela!

As my students would say, "You da bomb"! :-)

Joanna St. James said...

everytime I come here I feel like am taking a class, I always find stuff to write down. its just amazing.

Bish Denham said...

Yep, similies are like chocolate, eat too much and you might get sick. (snort)

Ann said...

I'm using too many similes today in my writing but I do love them so, just like a cold glass bottle of Coke.

OMG I just can't stop!

Regards,
Ann

JEFritz said...

I remember reading once that any writer was allowed three or four similes per book. I'm pretty good at keeping to this rule. At least, I think I am.

Lenny Lee! said...

hi miss angela! wow its another cool post thats helping me get to be a better writer. so far i dont use many similies or metaphors but i think i could need to start doing some or im gonna just be like watching a tree grow. boring! yikes! i did a simile! ha ha.
thanks for teaching me such good writing stuff.
...hugs from lenny

Mary Witzl said...

Like Misha, I have the opposite problem -- I under-use similes. But I tell myself that I'll go back through my story and weave in lots of similes -- AND metaphors.

Rachael Harrie said...

Great post Angela! Love your CP's (ironic) similie :)

Andrea Mack said...

Great post, Angela. I try to use similes very sparingly, because their similar structure makes them stand out.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wonderful post...I don't use many similies or metaphors in my writing. It's somethinging I need to learn how to do to make my writing richer.

Jaleh D said...

What's sad is when I read the title the first time, I saw simile as smile. Confused me a bit there, but it sure caught my attention. :D Great post!

Claire Dawn said...

Now that I think about it, similars are kind of reflexive. People use them every day in their regular conversations. Metaphors aren't. You have to go off and craft them. Maybe that's why we tend to lean towards them.

Matthew Rush said...

I love me some similes like I love me this post. See?

Just kidding. But seriously? I have this problem too. Comparative writing (metaphors, similes and even analogies) are some of the best ways to convey good strong voice, especially when it comes to humor, but as you point out very eloquently Angela, less is more.

Also, I can't believe I have not heard of AutoCrit. Sounds awesome.

Angela Ackerman said...

I'm glad this post is useful :). I tell you tho, it's crazy to know that some people hardly use similes. My writing is riddled with them!

Laura Pauling said...

Similis are our bestfriend and our worst enemy. Used right, they inject voice, humor but used too much or not in the right place and they make us look like a beginner. They are tough but I love them anyway!

Rebecca Ryals Russell said...

I've always loved figurative language. It was my favorite unit to teach my 5th and 6th graders and I always went overboard, but it became their favorite as well. I tend to use a lot of it in my own writing because kids enjoy it.

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