Bridge to Story

Metaphors and Similes

First, let’s hear what you think a metaphor is, and what you think a simile is. Put those meanings down in writing for yourself.

Write in your notebook:

  • A Simile is: ___________. (And give an example to yourself)
  • A Metaphor is: ___________.

If you can’t do that, try to find metaphors and similes you think you’ve written in your own work, lines that you think are metaphors and similes; highlight them on your pages.  Then read the notes below and see if you were correct or not. You might think you were using metaphors & similes in your own work when you weren’t.

Example Toggle

Example:

Metaphors

Using unrelated words to describe something.

Let’s say you want to describe the smile or frown on a man’s face. With metaphors, the words you use won’t have anything to do with men or smiles or frowns – the descriptions are outwardly unconnected to a character’s face, but they will paint an image that will illustrate (showing rather than telling) something for the reader to see in their minds.

 At the off-color joke the clarinet player’s mouth mimicked a flat ribbon of road.

If you notice, the novice who wrote that wasn’t trying too hard or using too many words here. The words just paint a picture: (the frown) looked like something else (the a flat ribbon of road metaphor).  Remember that metaphors work best when they don’t work too hard. 

Metaphors also work best when they use a theme to show subtext, that is, when a metaphor you use conveys an overtone of something underlying the actions, feelings or thoughts of something you’re writing about.

Similes

A simile is like a metaphor in that it also compares, but similes use as or like in doing that comparing.

Notice in the next example how like is used, how saying something is similar to fists, and how the ‘Like a fist’ line is part of the scene, not standing on its own being descriptive:

 The first thing Joanna ever asked Becca was, ‘You one of her sisters?’ She said it with a sneer in her voice.

The first thing Becca ever asked Joanna was, ‘Who wants to know?’ And she said that like a fist, so right from the start I was stepping in between them, telling them, "Quit it, guys."

The best writing you can do is let your simile or metaphor work to draw a picture of something, within a line you’re writing, and not use them, tacked on to the end of a line, only there to explain what something ‘is like’.

Make your metaphor and similes’ words contribute to the story around them.

It’s maybe the hardest type of writing skill to master, but it’s the one that separates the novice from the writer who knows their craft.

Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle

Lesson Exercise 1:

Now there is also the problem of mixing metaphors – Here’s an example of someone who mixed a simile while describing something. She used one idea next to a second idea that is not in agreement with the first one:

 Each rotation spins another part into place, whisking me together like spiritual cookie dough.

Cookie dough can be kneaded, and mixed, and to even stretch things, stirred. But a whisk is not a tool you’d ever use for cookie dough, for flour before it has the wet ingredients added to it maybe, but for the dough, no. This simile is mixed; the first idea (whisked) doesn’t match the 2nd idea (cookie dough). If the word ‘like’ were omitted from that line, this would be a mixed metaphor.

Are your metaphor or simile lines doing this correctly? Write a few and then judge. Find them in your work and evaluate if you’ve got them accurately written and not mixed.

The best metaphor or simile is one that is part of a line, it should be a bit that doesn’t stand out all on its own, like you’ve planted it there for description after an edit, instead of for telling a story.