The Art of Simile: Making Good Writing Great

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Description that brings a clear picture into a reader’s mind can make the difference between good writing and great writing. As writers, we’re often tasked with describing a single thing many times. Using the same description makes for lackluster prose, and importantly, bored readers.

One tool is to use similes to punch up the descriptive power of your writing. A simile is defined as a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid (e.g., as brave as a lioncrazy like a fox ).

Sounds easy, right? It is, if you pay attention to some simple rules:

Don’t use common similes if you can avoid it. “Crazy like a fox” comes off sounding trite, not descriptive.

Don’t use the same simile more than once in your writing. You’ll sound like a broken record.

Regarding #2, above. I quit reading Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series because I didn’t want to hear him describe Pitt’s “opaline green eyes” one more time. While the phrase “opaline green eyes” does not constitute a simile, it does make for repetitive reading when you encounter it more than a few times. Some writers fall into the trap of using the same simile to describe an object more than once. Don’t do it!

Good Writing to Great: The Simile

Let’s work through some examples. Say I have two characters in a book who have the same dark, piercing eyes. Also imagine that those eyes are in some way important. Perhaps they link them as beings from another planet, members of the same family, or creatures of untold power. Whatever the case, I can’t keep saying “dark piercing eyes” over and over. Some common similes that jump to mind are:

  • Dark as night.
  • Black as velvet.
  • Deep as a well.

All good writing, but rather drab. Sometimes I can come up with amazing similes of my own, just by using my creative chops. Other times, not so much. Here’s a method to help you be more creative for those “other times” when your similes are falling flat.

Prepare for Success

Successful similes come from having a variety of choices. Make a list. What words might describe something dark? Use a thesaurus if you want, it’s not cheating.

  • dark —-charcoal
  • murky—–pitch
  • overcast—–raven
  • inky——sable
  • lightless——ebony
  • void——sooty
  • black——stygian
  • somber——starless
  • soulless—–slate
  • deep——-pitch
  • fathomless——obsidian

Now free-associate objects, situations, weather, landscapes, flowers, animals, people, emotions, etc. that might also be called dark. Do this quickly, there is no “right” or “wrong”, you’re just exercising creative muscle.

  • abyss—–well
  • funeral—–heart of a witch
  • crinoline—–tuxedo, top hat
  • coal——stagecoach
  • dahlia—–ocean at night
  • mine—–ace of spades
  • depression—–ebony wood
  • sadness—–lightning blasted tree
  • evil—–hearse
  • crows—–diamond
  • ashes of a dead fire—–pearl
  • gangrenous limb—–elf-forged sword
  • rotted tooth—–cave
  • panther—–swamp at midnight

Final Steps

Now use these words and phrases as a springboard to more clever, impactful, and descriptive similes.

  • His eyes smoldered, as cold and dark as coals in the ashes of a dead fire.
  • Her eyes were stygian wells of blackest pitch.
  • Her dark eyes sparkled like a moon-kissed ocean at midnight.

Of course, once you have a good beginning, you can embellish even more creatively by expanding your simile.

Her eyes were stygian wells of blackest pitch. Their cold gaze lingered, immersing me in a feeling so dark, I couldn’t extricate myself from it.

See how the sentence after the simile carries the characteristic of a “well of blackest pitch” to the next level? One is “immersed” in a well, making immersed a perfect verb to use here. Pitch is sticky and dark, so it makes a great descriptor for a doomed feeling that can’t be shaken off easily.

Now you try. Also, if you make your lists on the computer, you can keep them for future reference. You’ll be surprised at how many times you need the same adjectives for your descriptions. Start turning your good writing great right now!

See you on the next page!

 

 

 

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