Original Metaphors and Similes
Write Better, Right Now is a weekly post about getting writers to understand deeper writing strategies to take their stories to the next level.
Write Better, Right Now’s topics for January:
- Evoking Strong Emotions (1/10)
- Replacing Sense Words (1/17)
- Describing Body Language (1/24)
- Original Metaphors and Similes (1/31)
To round out our month on topics to help bring your stories to life in your readers’ minds, I want to focus on original metaphors and similes. These turns of phrases and relational connections can create unique and one-of-a-kind sensations, emotions, sounds, and images just by using figurative language. But writers tend to write cliched metaphors and similes instead of stretching for a connection both original and on theme with what they are writing.
I’m sure we’ve all come across a metaphor or simile in a story that feels dull or cliche without it actually being cliche:
“My heart aches for you like a dog.”
The connecting imagery of want and ache being placed on a dog touches on the idea of ‘puppy love’ in a non-cliche way and brings up faint whimpering sounds, but the line still rings a little dry.
“My heart aches for you like a hammer for a nail.”
In the second line, the simile conjures images, sounds, and a sense of finality and intensity not carried in the first line. Creating an original metaphor or simile takes more than just finding an interesting or cool sound, image, connotation, or event. It’s about creating a specific connection between two unlike things in a way that deepens both while still staying true to the themes and symbols in your work.
Her heart quailed at the thought of going in there. She put one foot over the threshold, tentatively, as if stepping onto the ice of a pond that might not be safely frozen over. The old car, obsidian and sleek, filled almost all the available space in the garage. What little room was left was jammed with clutter: paint cans, rakes, ladders, boxes.
Let’s get into it more below!
The main distinction between metaphors and similes is ‘like’ or ‘as.’ Metaphors do not use ‘like’ or ‘as’ and instead state a comparison as fact. In contrast, similes draw comparisons and offer them as examples or evidence.
‘The cold is murder.’ = Metaphor
‘The cold is like murder.’ = Simile
Published writing is littered with generic and cliche metaphors and similes. So, it’s easy for writers to go to the first images, sounds, and comparisons that come to mind to create their own. Practicing and thinking about the themes and elements we’re working on helps us develop the muscles we need to push past the cliche to the original.
Like all aspects of writing, designing unique and original metaphors and similes for your work comes down to your characters and themes. Using metaphors related to motorcycle mechanics for a story about a cheerleading squad coming up with a new routine may be unique, but will they deepen the subjects of your story?
But, using metaphors and similes that pull from symbols, themes, and images related to cheering and teams will create depth to what is on the page.
Metaphors and similes should be used with intention and a special focus on the cadence of your writing. Having metaphors and similes all over the place tends to create an abstract writing style, while having no metaphors and similes present creates a more concrete feeling. Most skilled writers find an in-between that heightens the rhythm and helps control the pacing of their piece. It takes practice and experience to find that sweet spot for your stories.
For one week, observe the world around you for sharp images, sounds, and moments that resonate with you. These can be moments you find on TV, in books, or in your everyday life. Write them down along with the sensations, sounds, and other connecting elements that come with them. At the end of the week, create 5 metaphors and 5 similes out of each of the moments you gathered.
Did you forget to throw away those chocolate-covered strawberries, and now there are moldy strawberries hidden beneath delicious chocolate? Sounds like an awful moment that could be spun into metaphors and similes to create a pungent and distinct image in your readers’ minds. To make these unique, think of moments in your life or writing where those moments would connect well. Maybe a character or someone in your life reveals a nasty or evil interior life that repulses you? The chocolate-covered rotten strawberries would be an easy connection.
Continue this practice throughout your career. Collect images, sounds, and moments from your life that you can use later in your writing to create one-of-a-kind metaphors and similes.
- Ocean Voung on Creating Powerful Metaphors
- How to Write Similes that Shine
- 90+ Examples of Metaphors and Similes from Literature
- Mastering Similes and Metaphors in Your Writing Part 1 and 2
- Spicing Up Your Writing with Similes and Metaphors
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Please don’t forget to leave a comment and tell me your thoughts on metaphor and similes or how you use them in your writing! Catch you, next month for our Write Better, Right Now posts around characterization.
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