Metaphors and Similes

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Metaphors and similes are both used for comparison. Metaphors do a direct comparison by saying one thing is another thing. They often contain "is" and "was." Similes also do a comparison but they use "like" or "as." "Her skin is as cold as ice" is a simile while "She's an ice queen" is a metaphor. Metaphors and similes are both figures of speech found in prose, poetry and song.

Similes and metaphors need to strike a chord with the reader and make sense on some level. Stephen King says in On Writing, "When a simile or metaphor doesn't work, the result are sometimes funny and sometimes embarrassing."

Similes

"Her eyes sparkled like diamonds" is a simile because of the comparison. The use of the word "like" is a major clue that this is a simile. Comparing sparkling eyes to diamonds or stars is a simile that has been used many, many times. Some other common similes include "white as a ghost," "fast as a speeding locomotive," "lie like a rug," "as clear as mud, "dance like a maniac" and "tall as a tree."

Simile is defined by Dictionary.com as "a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared." The use of them can help make your writing more interesting.

Jan Hornung says in her article, Seven Steps to Better Writing Humor, that similes "can be funny in their own right." She gives the example of the funny simile, "I'm happy as a mosquito in a nudist colony."

Bad similes can also impact your writing. The simile that India "hangs like a wet washcloth from the towel rack of Asia" won the Grand Panjandrum's Award for bad writing in 2005. Similes sometimes may not work or they may be too jarring for your story or poem. You don't want to overuse them.



Examples of Similes from Literature

  • "She weeps like a wench that had shed her milk" - All's Well That Ends Well by Shakespeare.

  • "The cafe was like a battleship stripped for action" - The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hermingway

  • "Either way, or both, he died like a bug under a microscope." - The Long Walk by Stephen King.

  • "And life is too much like a pathless wood Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs" - Birches" by Robert Frost

  • "He had a broad face and a little round belly That shook, when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly. - "A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore

  • " From the earth thou springest Like a cloud of fire" - "To a Skylark" - Percy Bysshe Shelley

  • "Love set you going like a fat gold watch" - "Morning Song" by Sylvia Plath

    Metaphors

    Metaphors compare directly by saying something is another thing. If you say someone is a snake you are using a metaphor, i.e., "You are a snake." You are not actually saying they are not humand a legless reptile. You are saying they have the sneaky characteristics that we have come to know a snake has. Everyone understands the metaphor because we know snakes and people can both be sneaky although in different ways.

    Some common and memorable metaphors include "life is a highway," "she's boiling mad," "he's a blockhead," "you ain't nothin' but a hound dog" and "The U.S. is a melting pot."

    Metaphors from Literature

    One of the most well-known metaphors from literature is Shakespeare's line "All the world's a stage" from As You Like It.

    Here are some more:
    • "Love is a spirit all compact of fire" - Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare.

    • "Thou art a boil, a plague sore" - King Lear, Shakespeare. Shakespeare transfers the disgusting nature of a boil to a person with this insult and metaphor.

    • "The cherry-trees are seas of bloom and soft perfume" - "The Barrel-Organ" by Alfred Noyes

    • "My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations" - The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

    • "And how my soul was as a lampless sea," - "Epipsychidion" by Percy Bysshe Shelley

    • "Dying is a wild night and a new road" - written by poet Emily Dickinson in an a letter.

    • "Life: a lighted window And a closed door." - "I Pass a Lighted Window" by Clement Wood

    • "Do not go gentle into that good night." - Dylan Thomas uses night as a metaphor for death to great effect in his poem, Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Here's a video that points out similes and metaphors used in popular songs, such as the metaphor from Katy Perry's single "Firework."



    Here's a music video starring Simile Girl and Metaphor Man that shows the difference between similes and metaphors. The song says metaphors "just say exactly what they want to say" and don't use "like" or "as."