Description, run-on words, similes and metaphors are all ways to get your meaning across to your reader. I got the first two, but metaphors and similes....they were a bit fuzzy (school was a looooong time ago for me). Until I watched this scene from Renaissance Man, with Danny DeVito (if you've never seen it, you're missing out). I'll never confuse them again. Watch. We'll wait.
Simile = "like" something—comparing one thing to another. Metaphor = this IS that. Got it? Okay, but how can all this junior high English help strengthen your writing?
If you've read WITS much, you know I have a theory that extra words water down a scene, rather than strengthen it. I espouse "write tight." Comparisons are a shortcut. If you want something to hit home, but you need to do it fast, this is how. But the right comparison can do even more; it can add life to your scene. It puts the reader in the scene, because they've experienced the comparison.
This is from my WIP, The Road to Me. Nellie is an 84-year-old grandma.
Nellie is perky today, leaning forward, hands on the dash like a little kid going to McDonalds.
I could have described the look on her face, her movement, or her body language. But in comparing her to something disparate, can you "see" her excitement? Instead of telling you she's excited, the simile shows that she is. And the fact that it compares her to a child adds a tiny hit of humor, punching the power to a higher level.
I glare at Nellie, the picture of innocence. Her mouth is a machine gun with a hair trigger.
Metaphor: her mouth IS. And comparing it to something dangerous shows that the POV character fears what Nellie will say. This is making your words to double-duty, and it makes your text rich—meaty.
Speaking of, Margie Lawson taught me another comparison short-cut: Eponym – to substitute a name for an attribute. It takes some thinking, but it's a very short shortcut, and it can be powerful. You have to be careful to choose references all readers will understand though, or it flies over their heads.
Her dad’s Atticus Finch to Junior’s Vinnie Gambini.
Those are the basics. But here's where the fun comes in. You can pile up comparisons to move the character forward; to show their train of thought, that ends at a station of epiphany (see how I snuck in that comparison? God, I love this). Here's another example from The Road to Me:
It’s terrifying to think of going back to ground level where everything I’ve built is teetering over my head.
But I’m beginning to believe that’s exactly what I must do.
If I can muster the courage. But if I swept all I have into a pile, would it be enough? If it isn’t, what then? Like at the edge of the Grand Canyon, where the ground crumbled away from my feet, vertigo slaps me. Leaving the science behind would be like leaping off that canyon wall, trusting that I had wings, in spite of the mirror, telling me I don’t.
A leap of faith.
It terrifies me.
But so does failure.
I still have to work on it a bit—I like the shaky building comparison, but it's just a bit off from the vertigo comparison. But the point is, these pile up and take her to the letting go and flying, which is exactly where her journey has led her, and what she MUST do to get everything she wants. My hope is that I've taken the reader to that edge and had them look over—they're experiencing the fear that the character is. Only you can tell me if I succeeded.
But can you see the advantage of using comparison as a shortcut to make your writing stronger?
If so, my job here is done.
Have you found this device to be helpful? Would you share a comparison from your work or others'?