All writers—not just children’s writers—need to have a basket full of figures of speech in the corner of the office, where the writing books and tools are stored.
Today I want to look at two figures of speech. Two that you all know about, but that are often lacking from manuscripts I receive. Two that, if you will remember to employ them, have the power to move your writing from good to great.
Metaphor and Simile:
Both metaphors and similes compare two items that are not alike most ways, but which are alike in some way.
Metaphors rename the item under discussion: Envy IS a green-eyed monster.
Similes use the words “like” or “as” to make the comparison: Life is LIKE a box of chocolates. Or: I was as wound up AS a kindergartner on a sugar high.
Writers should work to put metaphors and similes into their books, because this kind of picturesque language stays with the reader. We remember Enger’s Peace Like a River (the title of which is itself a simile), in part because of his lovely metaphors and similes:
- Winter was a train crawling north.
- …certainty enters into me like light, like a piece of science…
- Sleep was a warm pool.
Good metaphors and similes have several things in common.
- They fit the character’s POV:
- A small child wouldn’t say his toy train went as fast as a Bugatti. He’d say it went as fast as his wagon went when his brother pulled him around the yard.
- An art history professor would be more apt to say his wife had a figure as finely formed as Michelangelo’s David, than to say the sight of her was a pleasing as the sight of new corn popping up after a long winter.
- They are easy to understand:
- Even if your character is a physicist, you don’t necessarily want to compare something to a quark. If you use unfamiliar terms in your comparisons, rather than describing something in a lovely, memorable way, you’ll have frustrated the reader by describing a thing he can’t picture.
- They are memorable…in a good way:
- It may be true that her eyes sparkled like sun on a lake, but who will remember that? That forgetful metaphor would be better, though, than this memorable one: Her eyes sparkled like diamonds shining in the sewer after a thief flushed them down the toilet when the police came knocking on his door.
Your turn. What else makes for a good metaphor or simile?