Saturday, April 14, 2012

A-Z M = Metaphors, Similes and Clichés

as spectacular as nature 
Metaphors and similes are both rhetoric devices that add color and variety to your writing because they can conjure up wonderful images for your reader. However, if you're not careful with them then you'll start wandering off into cliché territory.


You can tell if a phrase is a simile if it includes the words "like" or "as":

  • his eyes were like the sun
  • she was as smart as a fox
The problem with similes is that they are often overused, which turns them into the dreaded cliché:
  • bright as a button
  • mad as a hatter
  • hot as hell
However with a little thought, you can, and should, be creative with them. How about:
  • he shook like a whore in church (I don't think that's a cliché but you can correct me)
  • the men looked like trees walking
  • His diet was as healthy as a Greasy Spoon's menu list.
  • She looked as though she'd been poured into her clothes and forgotten to say "when" (P.G. Wodehouse)
In a few words you can conjure up a delightful picture in your reader's mind. But don't overdo it, otherwise your reader will have to work too hard at following your prose.

Metaphors have more depth. A metaphor, according to dictionary.com, is a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something else to which it is not literally applicable. 
  • This one's from Raymond Chandler: I bent over and took hold of the room with both hands and spun it. When I had it nicely spinning I gave it a full swing and hit myself on the back of the head with the floor.
  • The cruise ship was a floating Disney Land.
  • Here's a lovely metaphor in "Stop all the Clocks" by W.H. Auden:  
          He was my North, my South, my East and West,
          My working week and my Sunday rest,
          My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
          I thought that love would last for ever. I was wrong.

If you've never visited this invaluable site, or if you'd like to know more about metaphors and similes, take a look at Bookshelf Muse.

27 comments:

  1. your information fascinated me like a baby's eyes, tracking his mobile :)

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  2. I do hate to read a book with a lot of similes, but gladly gobble up creative ones. I LOVED the Raymond Chandler metaphor. It was delightful. "Stop all the Clocks" always makes me cry.

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  3. "She looked as though she'd been poured into her clothes and forgotten to say "when""— awesome.

    The W.H. Auden metaphor is lovely as well.

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  4. Ha, Lynn. Thatagirl - get them similes working. I can never forget "Stop all the Clocks" either, Libby.

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  5. I love W H Auden.

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  6. Well, now I have to read Stop All Clocks. That's just brilliant.

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  7. Metaphors and similes are a lot of fun creating but often difficult to make them new.

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  8. I love the whore in church one. Classy. lol Yeah I strive to create my own similies and metaphors... its' where the real work in writing come sin. :)

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  9. Beautiful, well written post! Thanks!

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  10. Me too Tonja. LG - It became famous in the film "Four Weddings and a Funeral!. Thanks Cherie, it's not easy it's true. Pk - it wasn't a cliché? I wasn't sure :-) Thanks so much Tyrean.

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  11. I like to create my own similes if I can, but I usually struggle!

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  12. Wonderful post, Susan! Straight to the point and clear as mountain air. I love examples when it comes to grammar and elements of style, and yours were perfectly well chosen! Thanks for a great lesson!

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  13. Ah, the delights of grammar! There are some really cheesy similies/metaphores out there.....they should be labelled 'Onlt use as a last resort!' ;-D

    Just found myself here via the blog-hop - what a delight! Happy A-Z'ing!

    (and one day I'll find a substitute for ending sentences with a '!')

    SueH I refuse to go quietly!

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  14. Oh Kyra it is a struggle, no doubt - but I can't imagine you do! Thank you Vero - it's your blog I aspire to! Hi Sue - oh exclamation marks, where would my blog be without them!

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  15. I love a good metaphor. And you're right, some metaphors and similes can wander into cliche territory, if one's not careful. Good post!

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  16. Wonderful example of strong similes and metaphors; however, I was zapped by coming up with figurative language which steered too far away from my writing and became a distraction. For example, only when my bad guy was dressed as a UPS man could he throw the kidnapped teen over his shoulder and carry him out the door like a package. This is my struggles with figurative language--making it creative while fitting in with the storyline. I loved this little writing tip post. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

    Catch My Words
    http://joycelansky.blogspot.com

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  17. There's nothing like a great simile!

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  18. I don't think I use either much. Similes sound so familiar, so 'human on earth,' and I wanted to avoid them in my science fiction. (Which is not set on earth.) Don't think I made any up either.

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  19. I love the snippet from W.H.Auden...

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  20. Thanks for dropping by Cherie, Alex, and Cat. I agree Joyce - they can be so distracting and they're not easy to do well. Michelle, it is lovely, isn't it :-)

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  21. I so like mataphors...I like weaving them into my writing~ great thoughts and reminders Susan-

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  22. Great post - so helpful. And I loved the examples. Wodehouse's cracked me up. A well-thought simile at just the right moment is wonderful. Using too many, though, can ruin an otherwise good story.

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  23. Love your creative similes! My husband says I use similes too much...period. Now, I'm try to watch myself.

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  24. Thanks for popping in Tracy, Dawn and Brinda!

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  25. Using metaphors and similes is something I need to work on. Mine usually seem to come out unimaginative--or I don't use any at all. :P

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  26. Mostly I use similes and only the occasional metaphor.
    I love that W.H. Auden metaphor. Beautiful.

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  27. Shaking like a whore in church ... now that's a metaphor!

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