In the days of LPs, when groovy was used to describe a wonderful feeling, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were also singing about a rare kind of comfort in “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.
Similes and metaphors are powerhouses in writing: similes use the helpers like or as to create word pictures. Metaphors dispense with the helpers.
Both similes and metaphors relate a noun (a person, place, thing or idea) to something it cannot be. They help us to see things in ways we never would before.
And, they link the psychological with the physical. In Jonathan Safran Foer’s Incredibly Loud & Incredibly Close, a boy describes his sadness by saying he has “heavy boots” and his happiness by saying that something makes him feel like “one hundred dollars”.
Children think in metaphors. Do you recall staring at clouds and seeing animals?
Perhaps you do.
Have you ever described yourself using similes?
I was as dizzy as a kid on a tilt-a-whirl, as weak as twice-brewed tea, as low as a garden worm, as timid as an escaped balloon and as unlikely to succeed as a mime without hands.
Try your own: I was as dizzy as _____, as weak as _____, as low as _____, as timid as _____ and as unlikely to succeed as _____.
Now, dispense with the helpers and describe yourself with metaphors.
I was a bobble-head dog, a wrung-out tea bag, a hidden talent — a butterfly without wings.
Similes and metaphors make impossible, if not unlikely, connections with the ordinary things.
Try listing your qualities and then writing similes or metaphors about each one.
If you could be an animal — any animal — what would you be? And why? That should get you thinking metaphorically.
Now, imagine being an object and describe yourself that way.
Try using uncommon word pictures to describe your emotions.
My heart was a rollercoaster.
It was as though someone had turned out the light in my soul.
My dreams swirled up the chimney and vanished in the night.
Our senses, as well as our bodies, can be described metaphorically. In school, children are taught that their bodies are “magnificent machines”.
Try this sometime: observe something ordinary, then connect it to something out of the ordinary.
My editor seems to have a love/hate relationship with similes and metaphors: “They can be a cultural touchstone and a connection with the reader at a different level and that can be special,” says Darrell Hookey.
Hookey used this example in an editorial a couple of months ago: “As happy as a civil servant on Swiss Bakery Day.”