Part II: Metaphors & Similes

Part II: Metaphors & Similes

A Lesson by Idiotekque

We all know what they are, but what are the difference, and how can they help your writing? ...


Welcome to part two of this little course. If you haven’t read part one, I’d strongly recommend you check that out first here. I say that not because it’s a necessary step in the learning process, but because this is a series meant to enhance your ability to liven up your writing. Each part is meant teach and equip you in the practice of a certain tool to turn boring writing into, well, not-boring writing.

    Last time I talked about personification. It’s a useful tool, but odds are you’ve used it without even thinking about it. Still, when you mindfully apply these things to your writing, they’ll be much more effective, and certainly more fun to read. The subject of this part will be metaphors and similes. You’ve likely used these without thinking too, but like I said, when you thoughtfully use these skills in your writing, the results will look great.

   So first off, what’s the difference between a metaphor and a simile? Here’s an example of both.

Metaphor: The moon was a spotlight in the sky, illuminating the dreary harbor.

Simile: The moon was like a spotlight in the sky, illuminating the dreary harbor.

    Pretty darn simple, huh? A metaphor is saying something is something else. A simile is saying like something is like something else. They’re very, very similar, and your reason behind using one in lieu of the other just depends on what looks, sounds, and flows better in your writing. In the example above, I like the metaphor version better. Why? Because though the scene’s setting is very mild and calm, a metaphor paints a strong, powerful image. Where a simile might be suggesting the similarity of one thing to something else, a metaphor is telling you like it is.

    So where should you use metaphors and similes? That all depends on your writing. Don’t be afraid of using either; just be sure that the similarity is good. No one likes stupid metaphors—they need to be relatable and effective. How can we do this? How can we figure out where to use these skills? This calls for a little medley of examples, I think.

Her words were harsh.

    This sentence works, but it’s very bland. It also makes use of “were”, which is a passive verb. It’s not strong, and it doesn’t do much to grab your attention. Let’s see how we can spice it up.

Her words cut into me.

    What’s this one? It’s a personification. It’s effective and it impacts you, but for this sentence, I think we can afford to make it as hard-hitting as possible.

Her words were like razors, slicing and tearing at my heart.

    This one hits hard. When you read this one, you can really see how hurtful the situation is. However, this is a simile, and I think a metaphor might work even better.

Her words were razors, slicing and tearing at my heart.

    A minor difference, but I think this usage transforms a comparison into something with poetic, hard-hitting emotional impact.

An overused metaphor, but the imagery is powerful.

    Which one do you like the most? I have to bring out that there is no best version of this particular sentence. Why? That’s the next point; just because something sounds good doesn’t mean you should use it every time. Placement strongly relies on whether or not the phrase will fit well into your paragraph. If you just likened something to something else, used a personification in the sentence after that, and now are about to throw in another powerful metaphor, you should take a step back. Read the paragraph over, perhaps even aloud. You may end up rewriting the entire section.

    The key there is balance. Just like a painter probably wouldn’t glop all his paint onto one side of the canvas, you shouldn’t bunch all your hard-hitting sentences next to each other. That’s not to say you should purposely write bad sentences, but simply that you should place extra emphasis on the sentences that matter. If you used a metaphor, and two seconds later, you’re using another one, read them both over. Decide which one creates a bigger impact, which one is more important, and simplify the other.

You want your writing to flow, as if the reader is ascending and descending soft gentle slopes, not climbing up and tumbling down jagged craggy mountains. Even if you’re writing a horror novel that is supposed to be anything but gentle, the writing still needs to flow. When you read, you don’t want to be thinking about reading, you want to be thinking about the story. Of course, effortless reading is not effortless writing. It takes a lot of editing to balance your writing and create that flow.

    Without highs and lows to the gentle slopes you’re creating, they wouldn’t be very interesting, would they? Avoid flat writing. That’s why tools like personification and metaphors are so useful, because they create those rising peaks in each paragraph. They make the reading fun, and that’s very important.

So how can you apply metaphors or similes to your writing? Just like last time, I’m gonna give you a few different things to turn into metaphors or similes. Remember, you’re going to be describing these things by likening them to something else.

A sunset

A mean old lady

A shooting star

Don’t be shy! Post your results in the comments section!


Useful links:

Metaphoric Formula
The Difference Between Metaphor & Simile
Metaphor In History

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Posted 4 Years Ago

The ghostly green sunset was a beacon of hope for some, a symbol of rage and anguish for others for it marked the end of the Nomads. It was the last one that they would ever see.
As I rose from my seat soaring high in the stratosphere, hurtling towards the stars, tears started to make their way down my face onto the floor like hot lead and I fell to my knees, burdened with emotion.

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Posted 4 Years Ago

The sunset was a harsh reminder of the previous day, when a mean old lady had treated her like an unruly child. But watching the shooting star arc across the sky like a splash of hope in a dystopian world.

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Posted 4 Years Ago

The sunset was like a gas station restroom, bit's of ripped tissue adhered to dingy gray walls. Held there by.. I wouldn't dare to imagine. Brown speckles hung above a large toilet. Flung.. sprayed.. how?
It was a dusty; tattered old curtain, that didn't hide the light of the dismal day well. Oh how I yearned to see those shooting stars tonight.
Cloudy? Why pretty it up Mr. Weatherman?
Mother Nature is a mean old b***h!

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Posted 4 Years Ago

The sunset was like a caress, gentle and loving.
The sunset was the end of an era as it dissolved into nothingness.
The old lady was like a sweet child with the heart of a killer.
The old lady had a dark side when one saw the evil exuding from her eyes.
The shooting star was like a grand finale to a perfect night.
The shooting star was the promise of wishes as it streaked across the sky.

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Posted 4 Years Ago

The sunset was like a beautiful poem, painted across the sky for young lovers like them.
The lady's looks might have been motherly but her heart was dark, dark and hard like coal.
A shooting star was a lone crusader against darkness as it lit up the night sky.

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Posted 4 Years Ago

The sunset was like a glistening jewel sparkling across the fields of canola, making it golden.
The sunset was the ending to a beautiful day.
The old lady was a blackened stone, there was no way to get into her heart.
The old lady was like a rotting compost, her words fermenting as they hit the air.
The shooting star broke the atmosphere like words which break the silence, interrupting putting all attention on it.
The shooting star was like a streak of flaming white fire shooting across the sky.

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Posted 4 Years Ago

The sunset was a glowing wound in sky, that slowly healed as darkness fell.
She was as colder than the rain on a winter night.
The shooting star was a single teardrop, from a night sky as black as onyx.

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Posted 5 Years Ago

The sunset on the old west horizon was a peach glowing in gold.

The old woman was like a barrel of sour apples.

The shooting star I saw from the car were arrows of diamonds across the sky.

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Posted 5 Years Ago

The sunset sizzled,as it sank into the unsuspecting ocean,hissing with glee,as I watched from the sandy shore.
She was a hideous,wretched thing,like a feral dog,gone mad.
The star burst forth,like a Fourth Of July sparkler,as it blazed the evening sky.

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Posted 5 Years Ago

That sunset was like a hot iron that seared the memory of rejection onto my heart forever.

Old Glinda's voice crackled like a log in a fire.

One tiny star was a phoenix screaming across the sky to parts unknown.

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Added on January 6, 2012
Last Updated on January 6, 2012
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Makawao, HI

I'm 20 years old and I'm a writing student living in Hawaii. Writing is my passion, and I'm striving to break into the market doing something I really love.