Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part II: Metaphors & Similes

Welcome to part two of this little course. If you haven’t read part one, I’d strongly recommend you check that out first here. I say that not because it’s a necessary step in the learning process, but because this is a series meant to enhance your ability to liven up your writing. Each part is meant teach and equip you in the practice of a certain tool to turn boring writing into, well, not-boring writing.

Last time I talked about personification. It’s a useful tool, but odds are you’ve used it without even thinking about it. Still, when you mindfully apply these things to your writing, they’ll be much more effective, and certainly more fun to read. The subject of this part will be metaphors and similes. You’ve likely used these without thinking too, but like I said, when you thoughtfully use these skills in your writing, the results will look great.

So first off, what’s the difference between a metaphor and a simile? Here’s an example of both.

Metaphor: The moon was a spotlight in the sky, illuminating the dreary harbor.

Simile: The moon was like a spotlight in the sky, illuminating the dreary harbor.

Pretty darn simple, huh? A metaphor is saying something is something else. A simile is saying like something is like something else. They’re very, very similar, and your reason behind using one in lieu of the other just depends on what looks, sounds, and flows better in your writing. In the example above, I like the metaphor version better. Why? Because though the scene’s setting is very mild and calm, a metaphor paints a strong, powerful image. Where a simile might be suggesting the similarity of one thing to something else, a metaphor is telling you like it is.

So where should you use metaphors and similes? That all depends on your writing. Don’t be afraid of using either; just be sure that the similarity is good. No one likes stupid metaphors—they need to be relatable and effective. How can we do this? How can we figure out where to use these skills? This calls for a little medley of examples, I think.

Her words were harsh.

This sentence works, but it’s very bland. It also makes use of “were”, which is a passive verb. It’s not strong, and it doesn’t do much to grab your attention. Let’s see how we can spice it up.

Her words cut into me.

What’s this one? It’s a personification. It’s effective and it impacts you, but for this sentence, I think we can afford to make it as hard-hitting as possible.

Her words were like razors, slicing and tearing at my heart.

This one hits hard. When you read this one, you can really see how hurtful the situation is. However, this is a simile, and I think a metaphor might work even better.

Her words were razors, slicing and tearing at my heart.

A minor difference, but I think this usage transforms a comparison into something with poetic, hard-hitting emotional impact.

An overused metaphor, but the imagery is powerful.

Which one do you like the most? I have to bring out that there is no best version of this particular sentence. Why? That’s the next point; just because something sounds good doesn’t mean you should use it every time. Placement strongly relies on whether or not the phrase will fit well into your paragraph. If you just likened something to something else, used a personification in the sentence after that, and now are about to throw in another powerful metaphor, you should take a step back. Read the paragraph over, perhaps even aloud. You may end up rewriting the entire section.

The key there is balance. Just like a painter probably wouldn’t glop all his paint onto one side of the canvas, you shouldn’t bunch all your hard-hitting sentences next to each other. That’s not to say you should purposely write bad sentences, but simply that you should place extra emphasis on the sentences that matter. If you used a metaphor, and two seconds later, you’re using another one, read them both over. Decide which one creates a bigger impact, which one is more important, and simplify the other.

You want your writing to flow, as if the reader is ascending and descending soft gentle slopes, not climbing up and tumbling down jagged craggy mountains. Even if you’re writing a horror novel that is supposed to be anything but gentle, the writing still needs to flow. When you read, you don’t want to be thinking about reading, you want to be thinking about the story. Of course, effortless reading is not effortless writing. It takes a lot of editing to balance your writing and create that flow.

Without highs and lows to the gentle slopes you’re creating, they wouldn’t be very interesting, would they? Avoid flat writing. That’s why tools like personification and metaphors are so useful, because they create those rising peaks in each paragraph. They make the reading fun, and that’s very important.

So how can you apply metaphors or similes to your writing? Just like last time, I’m gonna give you a few different things to turn into metaphors or similes. Remember, you’re going to be describing these things by likening them to something else.

A sunset

A mean old lady

A shooting star

Don’t be shy! Post your results in the comments section!

 

Useful links:

Metaphoric Formula
The Difference Between Metaphor & Simile
Metaphor In History

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About HT Sundance

I'm 20 years old and I'm a writing student living in Hawaii. Writing is my passion, and I'm striving to break into the market doing something I really love.

Posted on December 29, 2011, in Tips & Tricks and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Oh, like! like! like!

    I just discovered HOW to distinguish metaphors from similes because of your post. And stop giving me the ‘eyes’. I know I should have learnt them as a writer/editor but it was one of the things that still confused me.

    I also realised I love metaphors better than similes. ‘Shatter Me’ is full of them. The writing is so powerful and distinct because of it. Such an awesome novel.

    I’m loving this series. I’m glad to be a number for you–for your site stats, that is :)

    • Thanks Rebecca! Glad you’re enjoying the series—your “Best advice I’ve ever learned” series is great too. :)

      Something I’ve noticed about metaphors is that they imbue a much more poetic feel to your writing. It’s great, but I find that when the perspective of the piece is coming from the POV of someone with a more casual tone, similes sound better. It all depends, y’know?

      Thanks for the comment.

      • Thanks!

        Yes, it does make it more rhythmic … poetic … When muddled around in the wrong context, the inclusion or exclusion of the word ‘like’ (or something similar) can make all the difference. Such little detail for such a different effect. Agreed.

  2. You make writing sound fun!

  1. Pingback: Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part I: Personification « sundancepress

  2. Pingback: Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part III: Symbolism « sundancepress

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  4. Pingback: Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part IVb: Dialogue « sundancepress

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