For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.
Today’s tip – The Blood and Guts of Descriptive Fiction
Simile and Metaphor
The strong imagery contained in simile and metaphor is the blood and guts of descriptive fiction. Without it you are working with a mere skeleton, telling rather than showing. Used well, simile and metaphor bring prose to life; paradoxically, however, its overuse can smother the prose and bury the story.
A simile is a figure of speech, usually introduced by like or as, that compares one thing to another:
Emmett is as relentless as a wolverine.
Jenny’s eyes shine like chips of onyx.
Because a simile’s sole function is comparison, it is not quite as evocative as a metaphor. A metaphor does not so much compare as transform one thing to another:
Luanne was a dainty little bird of a woman, given to quick movements.
Behind the house Feldman laid out four squadrons of flowers that sprouted, mute and soldierly, exactly where he had planted them.
Metaphor is subtler and more revealing than simile, evoking imagery beyond the original comparison.
There are few things as fun as collecting Bad Similes… (even if they have become something of a meme… for example:
The Worst Similes from High School Students
From House of Figs:
- Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.
- He was as tall as a 6′3″ tree.
- Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
- From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.
- John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
- She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
- The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
- He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
- Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
- She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.