Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Metaphors and Similes: The Bane of My Existence

I don't know about you, but I've always had a problem with metaphors and similes. First, telling the difference between them, and then coming up with imaginative ones to make my writing pop.
Why are metaphors and similes so important? According to Aristotle, figurative language can lend "metaphorical life to lifeless objects." And isn't that what we, as writers long to do, create something from nothing, make readers believe the truth of our story and our characters' story world? Make things come alive so that the reader can shout "Yes, that's right; that's exactly how it looks! That's exactly how I feel! I can identify with that!"
Aristotle said language should be appropriate in "sound and sense" and make the audience see things by using expressions that represent things in a state of activity. In other words, not just create word pictures, but moving pictures.
Here's the difference between a metaphor and a simile.
Simile: uses like or as (I try to remember the "s" in simile as referring to the "s" in the word "as". If you have a better way, let me know).
Example: "Your hair is like a river."
Metaphor: "Your hair is a dark river."
My next problem: How do you think of creative similes and metaphors? The simplest way and one that helped me is to ask: "What does this object remind you of?" Do the clouds remind you of gum drops? Do fireworks look like shimmering fairy dust? I just finished reading Sandra Brown's "Chill Factor", a wonderful book I recommend. She describes a face that looked like wild dogs had been gnawing on it and a falling power line tower as resembling a landing spacecraft with red warning lights flashing.
Here are some other ways that can help (From a marvelous book called "Word Painting" by Rebecca McClanahan):
1. Create your own "Constellation of Images" based on an event in your life. For example, the author lost her twin sister and found her writing laced with images pertaining to that loss--like sidekicks, twins, doubles, rubber dolls.
2. Play mind games with common objects like a colander, an egg beater, or chopsticks. The chopsticks could look like drumsticks or oars to you.
3. Spend time with children and watch how they create things from unusual sources: forts from Popsicle sticks, swords or riding horses form broomsticks.
4. Read a lot of poetry rich with metaphorical images.

If you have other ways for creating colorful metaphors and similes, let me know. I would love to hear them!

Next week: Keeping Track of your Plot Ideas


Vonnie Davis said...

My husband, a writer also, is great at creating vivid imagery. I read his works and sigh in jealousy. I don't have that talent. I tell stories in simple language. Every metaphor and simile I use was mined from my psyche with a jagged back-hoe. It doesn't come easy for me. Thanks for a great post.

Sandra Koehler said...

Thanks Vonnie. Doesn't come easy for me either. Your husband is lucky to have that talent! Alison

Caroline Clemmons said...

Coming up with metaphors and similes that aren't cliche or ridiculous is hard for me. A few cliches slip in no matter how I try to avoid them and my cp's have to let me know.

P.S. I followed your blog. Please return the favor at http://carolineclemmons.blogspot.com

Sandra Koehler said...

Following you back, Caroline! Great site...Alison

Jenna Storm said...

Thanks for the tips on creating similes and metaphors. I also have the book Word Painting and found it helpful. It's so true how similes and metaphors can add to your writing...give it deeper meaning to the reader.