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 2 Years Ago

At morning it shone, a passionate dance of light

A hag mean like a child who wants candy

Falling, a tear of the universe in the black sky

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Posted 2 Years Ago

The blazing sunset
The hateful mean old lady
The rocket sounds of a shooting star

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Posted 2 Years Ago

The summer sunset kissed the earth with a comfortable warmth like hot chocolate on a cold winter night.
A mean old lady spoke words that tortured my impressionable thoughts.
Light was given to me like a shooting star in the unbearable darkness of my mind.

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Posted 3 Years Ago

The sunset melted away preparing us for the golden globe that lights up the night sky.

The mean old lady is bitter like a lemon.

My heart is fleeting like a shooting star.
My heart is a shooting star.

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Posted 3 Years Ago

As it decended into the horizon, the sun was an inevitable farewell to the day

The old lady was about as subtle as a wailing fire alarm when she expressed her disapproval

A shooting star blinked across the sky like a burning diamond fired out of a cannon

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Posted 3 Years Ago

A sunset is like a fading light bulb, highly appreciated only on its last moment.

A mean old lady is like a troll comment, a waste of time.

A shooting star is a free surprise concert, enjoy it while you can.


Still having trouble with metaphor, but thanks for the lesson :)

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Posted 4 Years Ago

the sinking sun gave its last farewell, ending the day and leaving the world in darkness.
The sun was like an omen that hailed the coming night.

The old lady's words shatters into their hearts, destroying every thing they believed in.
Her words like venom creeping under your skin.

The heavens lit up as a single drop of light descended to the earth.
The stars were like angels forsaken by heaven.

Hello Author! I am learning a lot of things from you and I just wanted to give you some thanks. Though I am having trouble making metaphors, it's not as easy as it looks, I guess. But I'll keep practicing.


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Posted 4 Years Ago

The sunset fell down to earth like the moon who jumped above it.
Like Rats to flies the older ladies came out at night. And just as the sun fell to sleep the stars came out to play. Some like rokects flew across the sky

I am having trouble with metaphors help

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Posted 4 Years Ago

The yolk of the Sun broke and spilled out on to the horizon.
The Sun was like an egg yolk spilling on to the horizon

The old lady was a volcano erupting and spilling her magma on to the bystanders.
Like a volcano the old lady erupts attacking the bystanders.

A Shooting Star falls from the sky like a kamikaze pilot.
The shooting Star is a kamikaze pilot heading to its destination.

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Posted 5 Years Ago

A shooting star is like a dream, something that is there for ten seconds and gone the next.

Its really short but I could think of anything else. :)

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Added 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.