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, 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.