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 5 Years Ago

The sunset settled upon the rolling hills, emitting vibrant hues of oranges, reds, and pinks.

The shooting star blazed across the dark midnight sky.

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Posted 6 Years Ago

The sunset burned across the sky, dissolving the horizon with it's heat.

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Posted 6 Years Ago

The sunset acted like a flashlight in my face, blinding my eyes as it finally passed through a small cluster of clouds that just seemed to want to annoy me and my boyfriend. I couldn't help but laugh at the idea of the clouds pointing and laughing at us as they blocked the sun's burning rays.

After a little discussion, we both decided to watch the sunset together and enjoy our one year anniversary with some much desired alone-time. We haven't had that much in the past year. We had to escape the clutches of my mother first. She was a vulture that watched over me with knife-like eyes. When I told her about me and Arnold, she really showed me what a vulture was like.

Then I had to leave for the military a few months ago. I haven't been able to come back and see him until just a day or two ago, so I became overly depress during the time I was in training.

I didn't want to leave for the military, but we needed the money. We moved into an apartment complex near the college we wanted to go to. He was going to be a therapist. I was going to be a mechanic. I know, it doesn't really sound like a perfect match, but we work well together. Hey, the one year anniversary proves enough, right?

I heard him chuckle as he covered his eyes. I looked over and he gave me a smile, noticing my glance. I smiled back. With a quick kiss, he told me, "Happy one year, Brian."

"Happy one year, Arnold." And with that, we gave each other another.

A flash of light burst across the sky, drawing our attention to a shooting star. I couldn't believe we could see it. There was still plenty of sunlight up so that the stars weren't visible. I shrugged realism away. The shooting star was an angel looking over us. I didn't care what anybody said about me and Arnold. We were meant to be together and we always would be.

- Yay! I finished it. Now, onto something else.

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Posted 6 Years Ago

My eyes disbelieved the sight before me, it was as if the sky had been set alight... burning my eyes I remained silent, as my thoughts evaported under the heat of the sunset.

Her eyes told stories of times, i need not repeat. She was a crooked chair, standing hunched, with disapproving stares.

Why do I see things so differently when the sky comes alive... it lights up my heart, like a long lost love. Its my very own luxury, my own devoured spirit.

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Posted 6 Years Ago

Mommy used to say how a sunset was God's bed sheets he prepared for his sleep.

None of the kids in town liked her. She was a cyclone, devouring the fun out of any situation near her grasp.

And I watched the shooting star bolt across the sky, leaving a trail like a pen releasing it's ink as it write.

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Posted 6 Years Ago

The sunset was a lightly painted canvas, blanketing the sky.

The shooting star dashed across the sky, a wish waiting to be caught.

The mean old lady looked at me, her glaring eyes like a cats.


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Posted 6 Years Ago

Red, yellow, bright orange.
The sunset was like the blaze of a furnace stretched across the sky.

She may have been sweet and innocent once, but now she was nothing but a breathing, walking dispenser of poisonous thought and ill will.

A streak moving across the heavens, like a gleaming spear thrown by the gods.

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Posted 6 Years Ago

She claimed her territory like a rattle snake fighting enemies over prey. Her words dug deep into our skin like needles.

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Posted 6 Years Ago

What do you think?

First green then orange and yellow hues began dancing on the tips of the waves, shapes shifting from the sharp wind, this sunset, like a kaleidoscope before us.

She was a mean old lady, cranky and unappreciative, taking her wrinkly skin and critical eyes back inside her shell, unimpressed with the lettuce I held out for her.

Crystal sprinkles falling fast from the match that strikes the dark canopy, this shooting star, a gift of the night.

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Posted 6 Years Ago

Here are my metaphors and simile, sure hope I'm doing it right:

The sunset was ball of flames, sending streaks of red and orange hurtling into the sky as it fought it's descent into the horizon.

The mean old lady was like an angry dog as she growled to the children to get off her property, her hair practically bristling.

Like a flaming arrow, the shooting star catapulted it's way toward an unknown target.

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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.