We destroyed the passive language scourge in the first lesson. We went over the “show don’t tell rule” on the second go. If that rule seems confusing, it’s only because it has many facets. It’s really as simple as it sounds…it just has endless applications.
Tonight, we shall invigorate the adorably charged synapses of our gooey gray brains, with a discourse on metaphors and similes.
Just a quick refresher – a simile is a sort of comparison, referring to one thing by talking about another (your big clue, in a simile, is the word “like”):
“I will seek out redemption like a coke fiend’s blistering tongue searches for the last contaminated grain.”
A metaphor, drops the comparison, the first item is the second item:
“His black hole eyes swallowed light and joy from all he surveyed.”
As a very general storytelling rule, metaphors are superior to similes. Word’s like “like” stop a reader and remind them, for a second, that they are reading. The smoother transition of metaphors keeps a reader immersed. And there is something more strangely or abstractly interesting, when the thing compared, simply exists as the second thing…it’s more poetic somehow. As Virgil would say to Dante, “We are now entering the sightless zone.” We are entering those areas of writing that don’t have hard and fast explanations as to why certain things work…it’s subjective. Watch your footing.
But something about metaphors is better. Take a look. In my short story, “The Halloween Tree,” I wrote this sentence:
“My memories fluttered in my head, like bats afraid of the light.”
Kind of a cool image, I thought. But some of my peers suggested changing it into a metaphor. I groaned…but did the work, and came up with this:
“Bat-winged recollections flutter in my head, afraid of the light.”
Read the two sentences out loud. The second flows better. And let that be a lesson. Part of your drafting process should be, after finishing any draft, to read it out loud to yourself, as if you have an audience (or even get an audience). Half the stuff that you realize you need to fix, gets noticed when the words hit your vocal chords.
The image is also more sophisticated. Instead of, “yeah…my memories are kind of like bats…isn’t that cool?” No! My memories ARE bats, every image bubble of my collective recollections has membrane wings. It’s more surreal. It’s a hell-of-a-lot cooler.
Subjective rules have endless exceptions. Sometimes it just sounds right to write a simile. Sometimes it sounds more natural in speech. For example – noir detective stories are filled with great similes (usually in hard boiled voice overs). So, if you were writing something with that flavor, you might do well to fill in a lot of similes: “The dame was bad, all bad. She used men like cigarettes, taking one too many drags before smearing them to ashes.”
Similes have there place. But, go through your story. Look at your “likes” and see how you might go about making them metaphors. In that process, just like when you force yourself to follow any other rule or limitation, will force some interesting sentences out of you that you didn’t know you had.