Thursday, April 26, 2012

Have Metaphors and Similes--Will Travel


Similes and metaphors are literary devices that help you paint pictures and show visual images to the reader as an expression. Lots of  writers don't use them, or use them infrequently, but they can really add another dimensional depth to your prose, if done right and sparingly. Similes and metaphors can do wonders to enhance your trademark voice/style, and many of the greatest works of literature have and utilize these literary techniques. You'll often see them in works of poetry, stories and songs.

Now, a simile is used more as a comparison or approximation, and usually contains the words "like" or "as". Metaphors do not contain those words, and are more absolute in defining a subject. "The famished girl roared like a lion for an ice cream cone", would be a typical example of a simile, because it expresses a likeness or nearness. Metaphors are more of a statement or absolute, as appears in  the sentence, "The little girl is a fragile flower" or "The man was a dinosaur."

Now the trick is to place these little gems throughout your manuscript without being too obvious or over the top. "The fragile old woman flew through the shop door like a locomotive." Obviously this doesn't work since an old lady who is fragile would have a tough time flying through or to anything and, certainly, locomotives don't fly. Connect your word dots and make sure everything is in agreement and that the metaphor or simile agrees and supports a likely condition of the subject. I don't have a MFA degree in writing, but I have used some metaphors and similes to advantage and have been rewarded by some very positive comments. One example is below, and it's a bit thick with simile, but I got the tone and message across, then backed off for several pages. The thing is, if you are going to use metaphor and simile, carry it throughout the manuscript, using good balance and placement. Let it become part of your style/voice in the prose you write, and use it when it supports and really brings out a scene in 3-D imagery, affecting and heightening, if possible, multiple senses.


"She nudged the joystick, bringing the wheelchair up to the fringe of the jogging trail. Mr. Stud Cake was just making the S-turn on the path like a Standard bred pacer on the homestretch at Woodbine. She pulled the charcoal sketchpad from her side and set it on her lap. Just as the young man approached, she dropped the pad, letting it bounce twice on the grass. The handsome runner chirped to a stop, panting. He walked three steps, retrieved the pad from the grass and stepped up to the wheelchair. His eyes locked on hers for a brief moment before they panned down to her legs."

Can you spot the simile in the paragraph? Does it help you visualize the jogger and his running technique? He's kind of fast, even eloquent maybe, since the comparison is in reference to a racehorse on a track. "Mr. Stud Cake" might be seen as a metaphor, as well. Let's try another example further on in the text:
 
"It took him a while to process the insult. She could almost see the gears trying to mesh in his head, the synaptic nerves groping for contact, the tiny bulbs flickering. The guy's an off-brand computer, with a hard drive crash.  He backed away and resumed his position on the path. With a swagger, he crouched and kicked off. She watched him jog around the bend, mentally scratching him off her list. Next."

 We've made this guy an off-brand computer. He has an obvious mental defect, of course. That's a metaphor. Let's try another simile:

"The next prospect was a distant speck. Clearly, he was moving and sucking oxygen. Always a good sign. As he approached, she became aware that he was wearing an enormous, full-sleeved jogging suit. His arms flapped in spasms, kind of like a large pterodactyl trying to get airborne. His stride was crazy-legged, totally out of firing order. He appeared to run as much sideways as forward. She nearly laughed out loud but thought better of it. Instead, she felt somewhat sorry for him. It might have been his first experience at jogging. Diane was no stranger to barbs or insults. And even with a slung gut and knocked knees, wasn’t Seabiscuit hard on the eyes but chock-full of speed and heart?"
It's pretty obvious that I likened this runner to a clumsy pterodactyl, because he had a hard time trying to build up enough momentum to resume his jog. Experiment and try out a few metaphors and similes in your text. For as simple as they are, they can add a whole new tier to your writing style and imagery. 

 

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