Last week I took an inside look at Metaphors, so today I thought Similes needed some love. Because of their ease in use, most writers already incorporate similes and understand what they are. However, for posterity, Friend Wiki states: A simile is a figure of speech that indirectly compares two different things by employing conjunctions (e.g. the words “like”, “as”, or “than”).
Similes are often easier to come up with, because ‘like or as’ (the most commonly used conjunctions) can form a quick comparison without worrying about being deeply meaningful or symbolic. There’s also some wiggle room as simile comparisons are adaptable, which allows the opportunity to inject voice, humor or the POV character’s outlook into the wording.
Margo was a surgeon, cutting her dinner into precise bites. (metaphor)
Margo ate like a surgeon with OCD, cutting her dinner into precise bite-sized pieces before manically sorting them according to color, texture and shape. (simile)
Jim’s stained undershirt was an artful collage of food he’d eaten this week. (metaphor)
Jim’s undershirt read like a lunch menu from a greasy spoon diner–chili dogs, spray cheese and grape soda. (simile)
As you can see, the ability to tweak what’s being compared allows us to better show some wit and personality, making this a popular figure of speech. Of course, this leads to a very common problem among writers…simile overload.
Many of us love similes a little too much. Tools like AutoCrit and Wordle can be helpful to gauge your usage–dump in a chunk of your story and see what pops out the other side. If you start seeing loads of ‘likes’ showing up, chances are you are abusing similes in your writing. This is something that we need to correct, because if the reader starts picking up on the ‘like or as’ constructions, it means they are noticing the writing, which pulls them out of the story.
This is a weakness of mine. I have to really go through my work and weed out this particular figure of speech. Once I had a crit partner tell me my book looked like I took a bag of similes and dumped them on top of my manuscript. The truth behind the statement was not lost on me (nor was the very visual and ironic use of simile in her comment!)
Curb your simile addiction and trundle down to my metaphor post. Take a look at how to craft metaphors and also think about creating evocative, sensory description that does not require a figure of speech. Strong writing comes from using a variety of stylistic methods to convey meaning, but never relying on any one technique too much.