Suffering similes, ‘as easy as one two three’!

We’ve all seen them.  Maybe we’ve even been the culprit who wrote or otherwise used them.  ‘Pretty as a picture’, ‘soft as a bunny’, ‘light as a feather’ or ‘big as a bear’.

While all of those do accurately convey a mental image, they have become overused and dull.  But sometimes you want to compare things.  You can say something is black, but if something is ‘black as the darkest night’, a reader will better connect to that mental image.

So, how do you avoid falling into the overly-familiar simile trap?

One way is to consider who your characters are.  If a guy lives, breathes and works as a football player, instead of his describing someone as ‘big as a bear’, he could say they were ‘as enormous as the most intimidating defensive tackle’.  That would be a mental connection he would readily make.  The same holds true for other characters:  a quilter, a bookworm, a fisherman, a stamp collector.  Each would tend to think in terms of their hobby/profession/interest, and make comparisons accordingly.  Most of us would not compare someone large to a defensive tackle; it’s simply not the first idea that would come to our minds.  But characters are individuals, just as people are.  Sports aficionados tend to speak with sports references:  the ‘game of life’, a ‘team effort’.  A quilter, though, in describing a group effort, might refer to them as ‘working as efficiently as a quilting circle’.

Hopefully, each of your characters has their own individual interests that play into the way they experience the world around them.  Genealogists perk up at the sight of a cemetery while most others would drive right by without much notice.  A fisherman is possibly eyeballing every body of water as a potential fishing spot.  Use those details to give your story depth and interest.  Such things can create conflict between characters:  the husband reluctantly stops at a cemetery so his wife can walk around, but spots a nearby stream and wanders over to check out the prospects while he waits.  Or they argue and don’t stop at all.

Interests and experience will drive everything about your character – what they say, what they do, how they react.  And that’s a good thing.  It’s what makes them different from each other.  Can you imagine reading a story where everyone is exactly the same:  they look the same, they talk the same, they have the same interests?  In that scenario, it’s going to be pretty hard to come up with a compelling to story to tell about them (unless they’re the Stepford Wives).

So, next time you want to make a comparison, look a little deeper than the obvious ones.  ‘Soft as a bunny’ or ‘soft as the whisps of hair on a newborn baby’?  ‘Pretty as a picture’ or ‘pretty as the first bud of spring’?  Children running through the house ‘like a herd of elephants’ or ‘like the bulls at Pamplona’?

Which pulls you into the story more?  Which would you rather read?

Definition of simile

  1. :  a figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by like or as (as in cheeks like roses) — compare metaphor

simile vs. metaphor

Many people have trouble distinguishing between simile and metaphor. A glance at their Latin and Greek roots offers a simple way of telling these two closely-related figures of speech apart. Simile comes from the Latin word similis (meaning “similar, like”), which seems fitting, since the comparison indicated by a simile will typically contain the words as or like. Metaphor, on the other hand, comes from the Greek word metapherein (“to transfer”), which is also fitting, since a metaphor is used in place of something. “My love is like a red, red rose” is a simile, and “love is a rose” is a metaphor.


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