Metaphors and Similes


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Thread: Metaphors and Similes

  1. #1

    Metaphors and Similes

    The King of Lies got me starting thinking about similes and metaphors. Is there advice to give? Anything to talk about? I think so; I don't know how much.
    Modern Punctuation and Grammar: Tools not Rules is finally published and available for $3 Hidden Content . Should be mandatory for serious writers, IMO. Italics, Fragments, Disfluency, lists, etc. But also commas and paragraph length. Discussed use of adverbs, and ends with a chapters on the awesome moment and the grammar of action scenes. Description at my Hidden Content

  2. #2
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  3. #3
    The main advice I would give is just to put a lot of work and thought into your analogies. I think some authors don't, and it makes their book seem less serious.

    The gym was blacker than the inside of a cave.
    We know the lights are out. "The gym was still blacker than" tells us the gym is black. The metaphor wasn't need for that. What does the metaphor add? When I was inside a cave, it was well lit. So this metaphor doesn't easily work for me.There was one moment where they turned out the lights and it was completely black, but nothing can be blacker than that.

    (Yes, I have probably thought more about this metaphor than the author did. I am not supposed to feel that way.)

    Of course, you might wonder, just because the power went out, aren't the exit lights still on? They were! So the author didn't even take her metaphor seriously.

    Of course an adrenaline rush can be described as a "flood" of adrenaline. But what about adrenaline leaving her body? Is there a good simile for that? From the same paragraph:

    The adrenaline that had gotten me this far seemed to flow out of my body like a 100-year flood.
    Oops, going the wrong direction on that simile. I can't figure out how adrenaline draining is like a flood. On the same page:

    It [the glowing exit sign] seemed like it was a hundred miles away, even though it was only yards.
    I don't know what this means. It could have meaning if she could only crawl slowly, but our adrenaline-less heroine was racing to the sign and "managed to leap over a pile of ski poles without slowing."

    It makes me think of adverbs -- they can add power to writing, but they have to be used thoughtfully.
    Modern Punctuation and Grammar: Tools not Rules is finally published and available for $3 Hidden Content . Should be mandatory for serious writers, IMO. Italics, Fragments, Disfluency, lists, etc. But also commas and paragraph length. Discussed use of adverbs, and ends with a chapters on the awesome moment and the grammar of action scenes. Description at my Hidden Content

  4. #4
    I would say use each fairly sparingly for best impact, and when you do use them, make them pertinent - to content, context, tone, mood, character doing the perceiving etc. Try also to mix metaphors near a simile, so you don't end up with a string of likes and as thoughs. Eg if you have, let's say, a fairly sensitive, thoughtful character, their similes and analogies may differ from someone who is more bold, for example:

    Gentle Steve stepped into the cave mouth, a blind, fluttering moth. He flapped one pale hand in front of him but could see nothing. The blackness was as impentrable as velvet.
    or

    Vicious Tyra strode forth into the cave mouth, a warrior-stab to the dark within. She flapped one broad hand before her, though she could see nothing. The blackness was impentrable as a fortress.
    Note also the other word choices - description of the hand, the modifier to their names; even the choice of but versus though feeds into the sense of character. Though is more decisive, whereas but is more taken-by-surprise, imo. But all these things - choices of words, choices of imagery, should work together to create the picture you want.


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  5. #5
    On the Poetry Discussion Board you can find all sorts of interesting material about this (poets seemingly talk about nothing else). Read for instance the threads by RHPeat, here is one example.
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  6. #6
    I tend to think of metaphors as being the simile's grown up older brother. Similes are really, really easy. Even a five year old knows how to say "This water is cold like melted ice cream" and, frankly, is there a better simile than that for the purposes of creating a watertight, intellectually correct comparison? We have all been in cold water and it DOES feel like melted ice cream.

    But it's difficult to impress anybody with a simile, and a simile that does not impress is practically worthless and a good indication of amateur rubbish. I still use them, but where possible I prefer to use metaphors. I tend to believe anything that offers an image in the language of comparison - "like" or "as" etc- tends to be weaker.

    Here is a pretty effective example, from "The Highwayman" by Noyes:

    "The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees. The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas."

    ^ this is a good metaphor. Powerful and everybody can instantly see the moon and feel the wind. But written in the language of simile it is emasculate.

    "The wind was like a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees. The moon resembled a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas."

    It's not just the interruption of rhythm/ congestion of language of that ruins the second version, though that is definitely part of it, but mostly for me it is the instant separation that adding "was" or "resembles" creates. Suddenly this is becoming a matter of comparison, of imitation, of bringing home the fact that of course the moon ISN'T a ghost galleon, which of course the reader already knows. I find that to be weaker writing. A destruction of the suspension of disbelief.

    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    The main advice I would give is just to put a lot of work and thought into your analogies. I think some authors don't, and it makes their book seem less serious.

    We know the lights are out. "The gym was still blacker than" tells us the gym is black. The metaphor wasn't need for that. What does the metaphor add? When I was inside a cave, it was well lit. So this metaphor doesn't easily work for me.There was one moment where they turned out the lights and it was completely black, but nothing can be blacker than that.

    (Yes, I have probably thought more about this metaphor than the author did. I am not supposed to feel that way.)

    Of course, you might wonder, just because the power went out, aren't the exit lights still on? They were! So the author didn't even take her metaphor seriously.
    Personally I put close to zero thought into metaphors or similes. I tend to think the less thought that is put into these things yields better results. I realize that sounds deeply counter intuitive but consider what we are doing when we use this sort of language. A metaphor is supposed to yield an instant image and in order for something to be instantly evocative it usually needs to command instant construction. Imagery should NOT be an intellectual process but a visceral, instinctual one. I do not know how Noyes came up with the "moon metaphor" but I highly doubt he sat there for any extended length of time and thought about all the things a moon could look like. Rather I suspect he closed his eyes and pictured a moon (or possibly opened them and looked at a real one) and immediately the thought came into his head "it's like a ship!". That is essentially how I come up with mine and if I cannot come up with a good one, I don't try. A writer gets no real brownie points for metaphors and similes UNLESS they are visceral and unique and a surplus of middling attempts at MAKING! WRITING! FIZZ! is a huge red annoyance for me as a reader.

    But let's see...

    Of course an adrenaline rush can be described as a "flood" of adrenaline. But what about adrenaline leaving her body? Is there a good simile for that?
    Now, not to nitpick but "flood of adrenaline" is actually a metaphor not a simile as it involves no comparison. Still for the sake of experimentation let's consider how this might work both as a simile AND metaphor. It is important to point out when I consider this I am thinking not of adrenaline itself but of a highly pressured substance being swiftly hemorrhaged. Which is what that sensation is, on a psychological level

    So I sit here, I think for a moment...

    "a sigh of adrenaline leaving"
    "adrenaline bled from her body"
    "adrenaline was sucked away as air from the neck of a filled balloon"
    "adrenaline was sucked away as suddenly as air from the inside of a plane thirty thousand feet in the air, its windows blown."
    " the rush of adrenaline began to dwindle, becoming like
    blood sucked into the jaws of a leech."

    None of these strike me as being particularly good, but there's nothing at all bad about them. They fit the brief and are evocative so far as they do describe, for me, the sensation we are speaking of. But they don't tell me anything about the sensation I don't already get from saying "the adrenaline left". But here's the thing, I do not feel contemplating it for long would have come up with anything better.

    It's not hard to write this stuff. You just have to be lucky sometimes and be able to separate the good from the bad. Not all aspects of writing needs to require hard work and hand wringing. Some of it is, for better or worse, purely instinctual and requiring of a certain degree of luck. One must seize on the good when it arrives. I doubt Noyes could write such a good metaphor about a sunny day.
    Last edited by luckyscars; August 20th, 2018 at 01:45 PM.
    Deactivated due to staff trolling. Bye!

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by bdcharles View Post
    I would say use each fairly sparingly for best impact, and when you do use them, make them pertinent - to content, context, tone, mood, character doing the perceiving etc. Try also to mix metaphors near a simile, so you don't end up with a string of likes and as thoughs. Eg if you have, let's say, a fairly sensitive, thoughtful character, their similes and analogies may differ from someone who is more bold ...
    I agree completely. Character, especially, can (and often should) be the deciding factor in the kinds of similes and metaphors that are used. The deeper the POV, the more important this becomes.

    If you're truly entrenched in the character's skin (first person, or deep third), the comparisons and analogies used should be only something that the character himself/herself would think or say.

    Even if the POV isn't close to the character's headspace, it would still make a lot of sense for the comparisons to be character-related. The analogies used in a story involving an artist, for example, should read a lot differently than those used in a story involving a boxer.

    Just as long as you keep them fresh, and don't rely on stereotypes or clichés.

  8. #8
    I would also say don't forget that all the usual things you do in your writing should be present in the simile. So for example, in varying levels of absurdity:

    She danced before his eyes like a whirly spinny thing; boingy-boing-boing, all the way up.

    She danced before his eyes like a seed floater on gentle drafts.

    She danced before his eyes like a twirling particle of pollen, whispered aloft on only the softest carresses of summer air.

    So for every style the simile should match it. Bolting them on willy-nilly would probably look a bit out of place.


    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge


    The first cut don't hurt at all
    The second only makes you wonder
    The third will have you on your knee
    s
    - Propaganda, "Duel"

    *

    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous








  9. #9
    I should have asked why write a metaphor or simile. We don't need a metaphor to help describe black. Or the moon, plus the moon isn't really tossed about. I think the author I cited was using metaphors just to insert excitement. So the Exit sign was described as the Holy Grail, an exciting metaphor that doesn't fit the Exit sign very well.

    Writing metaphors and similes must deserve some time and effort. I can't help but think this author didn't put enough time in.

    He was being torn in two, torn to shreds.
    Those are contradictory. Plus the same paragraph said his heart was broken.
    Modern Punctuation and Grammar: Tools not Rules is finally published and available for $3 Hidden Content . Should be mandatory for serious writers, IMO. Italics, Fragments, Disfluency, lists, etc. But also commas and paragraph length. Discussed use of adverbs, and ends with a chapters on the awesome moment and the grammar of action scenes. Description at my Hidden Content

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    I should have asked why write a metaphor or simile. We don't need a metaphor to help describe black. Or the moon, plus the moon isn't really tossed about. I think the author I cited was using metaphors just to insert excitement. So the Exit sign was described as the Holy Grail, an exciting metaphor that doesn't fit the Exit sign very well.
    That's exactly it. It's one thing to enumerate just what is there, be in a dark cave or an exit sign, it's quite another to imbue it with tone, voice, meaning, tension and so on. Such imagery, being a part of writing, can help wth that


    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge


    The first cut don't hurt at all
    The second only makes you wonder
    The third will have you on your knee
    s
    - Propaganda, "Duel"

    *

    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous








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