Friday, March 19, 2010

Similes and Metaphors in Fiction

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by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

As fiction writers, we have access to any number of tools, tips and techniques with which to pen the Great American Novel. Today we’ll discuss two of the most fun and powerful items available to us, similes and metaphors.

Simile is a comparison of different actions, concepts or objects using the words “like” or “as.” In contrast, a metaphor compares dissimilar things without using either of those words. In effect, a simile indicates one thing is MUCH LIKE another whereas a metaphor says it IS like the other. Here are a couple simple examples.

     "Her eyes were as blue as the ocean." (Simile)

     "Her eyes are blue pools of laughter."(Metaphor)

What are the advantages of similes and metaphors?

The secret within these literary devices is their innate ability to create powerful mental pictures with a limited number of words.

They enhance your novel by adding effective portrayal and originality. 

Similes and metaphors offer your readers a more personal experience and you a better emotional hook. 

They also add great depth and imagery to your writing.

Let’s see if I can’t come up with an image, then improve it by way of one of our new friends, simile or metaphor.

     “Her eyes flashed with anger.”
     “Her eyes flashed with the power of a lightning strike.”

Well, that second example is more hyperbole, (explained below), but you can see the strength between the two images. This first tells the story well enough, but the second shows us the emotion in her face, doesn’t it? The second example conveys a much more powerful image.

The problem with these tools? Metaphors bombs.

Misuse of these wonderful tools will bore and confuse a reader and draw attention to the author’s lack of writing skill. 

The most common traps when using metaphors are the cliché, the mixed metaphor, (two or more incompatible metaphors in one expression), and the dead metaphor, (one that has lost its effectiveness over time).

Overuse of similes and metaphors tends to overpower your reader.

Poor word choice can break a reader’s interest at once. Here’s an example of what I mean. “Her skin shinned in the darkness like a fog light.” (Oh, so close!) A single improper word choice rips your image apart. Chose your words with care.

The exaggerated use of similes and metaphors may tend a writer toward hyperbole, (high-PUR-buh-lee), or an obvious exaggeration. Uh, kind of like eyes flashing with the power of lightning.

If you’d like to try your hand at creating metaphors and similes, I found a “Create Your Own Metaphor” exercise at THIS web site. 

Be careful with your use of these fun and interesting literary tools and your novel will be all the better for it.

Until we meet again, know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


  1. I prefer metaphors and use them with some frequency without going too overboard hopefully. Since similes seem more obvious I try to use them only if it really helps get an image across better.

  2. Good morning, Arlee.

    Nice to hear from you again.

    I agree, metaphors are the more powerful of the two.