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Monday, March 24, 2008

Creative Similes

Similes are comparisons using the words "like" or "as." For example: She was as fierce as a tiger. Similes offer a concrete picture. They can also add a subtle layer of meaning. Think about the difference in fierceness between a tiger and a chihuahua on a leash.

I'm always tempted to make obscure comparisons, usually to cooking. "She was as slow as cassoulet cooking." Cassoulet is a French bean and meat stew that traditionally takes all day. How many people can relate to that analogy? Not that many. I might get away with it in a snooty cooking magazine, but never in a publication for a general audience. The point of a simile is to add information, not send people to a dictionary--or, more likely, to the next story.

Keep your similes understandable but avoid cliches. For example: She was as fierce as a tiger. I'm sure you could name umpteen comparisons you've heard untold numbers of times. Smooth as silk. Soft as a baby's bottom. Cold as ice. Yada, yada. Avoid these! Bring something fresher to the page.

I hear a lot of cliches on radio (I listen to a lot of public radio). Maybe radio reporters fall back on the tried-and-true because these are sure to convey meaning quickly. I think they should trust the listeners' intelligence more.

Try this: Make a list of similes to complete, and complete them in unexpected ways that are still easily grasped. Take a list around with you and work on similes in spare moments. Try doing five a day for a while. It'll limber up your brain. Or put in the shopworn phrases in your writing, then go back and replace the usual word with something that conveys another layer about the thing being compared. Here's a list of five to get you started.

as hard as ____________
as cold as ____________
as expensive as ________
she swam like a ________
as impregnable as a ____

category: craft


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