Writing is an Art
If writing is an art, it needs to show with vivid clarity what the author is trying to convey. A painter uses colors and textures to convey meaning; a musician uses rhythm, tone and pitch. Writers use words to evoke imagery. Concrete and precise words guide a reader to imagine the sights and sounds in a scene. They elicit emotion and mood, portray action and flow, and allow the reader to become a participant. Whether describing a person, a place, or a thing, the author’s aim is to reveal a subject through vivid and carefully selected details
But at times there is no word the author can use to adequately illustrate a situation. While complex and unfamiliar words can be off-putting, simple and familiar words may feel drab and grey. This is when a writer can turn to comparison to provide the desired imagery. Effective use of comparison can show the unknown through pictures of the known. It defines the complex by linking it to the simple or understood. Authors frequently use similes and metaphors create such linkages in the readers’ minds.
What are Similes and Metaphors
Similes and metaphors are comparisons that bring color and life narrative. Both involve words and phrases that describe one thing in terms of another. They force the readers to grasp what the writer is trying express. They are two of the many types of figurative language that authors use to arouse the imagination or evoke an emotion.
A simile is a direct comparison of dissimilar things using the words like or as. It very openly creates the illustration the author wants to describe. It can be used to express emotion, offer striking images, or to discover new ways to look at something.
“The water made a sound like kittens lapping.” There is little doubt about what Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wanted us to hear in The Yearling
“In the eastern sky there was a yellow patch like a rug laid for the feed of the coming sun. . .” Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane.
“The very mystery of him excited her curiosity like a door that had neither lock nor key.” Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Where a simile states that something IS LIKE another, a metaphor states that something IS another. It is an implied comparison that between two unlike things that share some common quality.
“A man may break a word with you, sir, and words are but wind.” The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
“And your very flesh shall be a great poem.” Walt Whitman
“Making tacos is a graceful dance.” A Taco Testimony by Denise Chavez
While similes and metaphors add sparkle to your writing, caution is required. They can also smother or distract the reader. Similes are fairly easy and versatile. Overuse of similes tends to make the writing sound trite or pretentious. Metaphors can be far more powerful, but their overuse can create absurd images. With the use of either, close attention is required to make sure that they fit the story and the character. They should subtly draw the reader deeper into the scene, and never stand out so much that the reader stops to consider the creative phrasing.
In an article by Caethes Faron, two rules for the use of similes and metaphors are presented:
- If you take out the simile or metaphor and the sentence means the exact same thing or the tone is the same, keep it out. They should be used as tools, not decoration.
- If every part of your simile or metaphor does not evoke the exact feeling you want, or evokes a feeling that isn’t consistent with the scene, cut it. They should fall completely in line with the picture you’re painting.
Want to be a Writer?
Have you always dreamed of being a Writer but never knew how to start? Or perhaps your student has expressed an interest in being a Writer and needs a little guidance. Whether for you or for your teen, this handy FREE WORKBOOK will take you from a Dreamer to a Doer in 7 Easy Steps.