A week ago I taught a workshop–Show, Don’t Just Tell, at the Weyburn Public Library. It’s one of my favorites, as it lets me and my students wander off into dozens of different directions. One of the most interesting is the power of metaphors and similes to help writers show instead of tell.
Whether you’re writing a novel, or a single poem, you can harness the power of metaphors and similes.
So, what exactly is a metaphor? Well, simply put a metaphor says one thing is something else that it couldn’t be. You’re a bear. The team was on fire. My mother is made of china.
Now what’s the difference between metaphors and similes?
They’re similar, but with a simile instead of saying one thing is something else, the writers says it’s like something else. You’re as grouchy as a bear. The team skated as if they were on fire. My mother is as fragile as china.
The metaphor’s lack of comparative language, or not using either of the simile’s two comparative words–like or as–is its strong point. Instead of comparing, the metaphor is decisive, stating in certain terms that one thing is another.
As a writer, I tend to use similes more often than metaphors, particularly when I’m writing for my younger audiences. I find similes can be clearer for readers.
Simile examples from my books:
- From Pictures (Grades 2-5 audience) -Page 5 – A huge mosquito, thirsty as a vampire, drilled into Sam’s arm.
- Page 10 – Sam turned over on the narrow twin bed and listened to Dad’s snoring. It sounded like the grunting worthog he’d seen at the zoo.
- Page 57 – As they started the long walk back, an excited feeling began to build in Sam’s chest, as if he were waiting in a long line for a roller coaster ride.
- From Longhorns and Outlaws (Grades 4 to 8 audience) – Page 9 – He felt like Alice sliding down the rabbit hole.
- Page 18 – “Should get a mule as balky as you,” he muttered.
- From Adeline’s Dream (Grades 4 to 8 audience) – Page 15 – Overhead, birds swooped, then darted skyward, like they couldn’t find anything worthwhile below either.
- Page 21 – It was already hot enough that she felt like some wicked witch had pushed her into an oven.
- Page 34 – Linna grabbed her pail, feeling the weight stretch her arm as if it could grow long enough to let the bucket settle back on the ground.
- Run (Grades 6 to 12) – page 2 -Papa sits at the table, his blue eyes as deep as the town well that waters us all…
- Page 4 – I imagine him in my school — shaggy dark hair tickling half-moon, bushy brows over a hawk nose, his appendages stuck out like grasshopper legs from a pea pod body.
- Page 16 – Since Pa died, what I want has made about as much difference as a chicken flappin’ its wings to escape Ma’s axe in the fall.
- Page 53 — Instead, she plunges the spoon into the depths of the dye, stirs, goes about the business of death like she’s hilling potatoes in the garden, heaping black dirt over whatever grew below.
Metaphor examples from my books:
- From Adeline’s Dream – page 19 – Seeing the smiles on their faces, Linna’s feelings bubbled up and overflowed.
- Illustrated Guide to Snowmobile Racing (Grade 5 to adult) – page 25 – (description of winter snow) – Ditches are full of white cement, sculpted and re-sculpted on a daily basis.
- Page 67 – But by the time the 1974 world-championship race ended, the name of Villeneuve had made an impact on snowmobile racing that rippled through the coming decades.
- From Run – page 2 – She steps past the painted door – dull brown hair streaked with grey, lips shut so tight that wrinkles ripple past her cheeks to her rain-cloud eyes.
- Page 6 – Somewhere between full moon and sunrise, my stomach rolls and the mutton stew from supper kicks me in the belly.
- Page 29 – Describing the pain, Victoria says: A dagger twists and stabs me again. And later, on page 32: My foot cramps, arches full length, toes curled, pointing at the floor, and a thousand needles race down the stretched skin, two-by-two, like animals on Noah’s ark, with everything left behind dying. (The metaphor is followed by the simile that begins at like…)
- Page 36 – “We do what the doctor orders,” Papa says, chopping off her words.
- Page 58 – Each spoonful of medicine spreads clouds of wool through my head and takes less of the agony away.
- Page 59 – The minutes crawl past while memories fly on angel wings…
Whether you choose to use similes or metaphors, you’ll find they help you be more effective at showing instead of telling when you write.