Understanding and Creating Similes

Similes are a type of figurative language. Figurative language works to convey complicated meaning, clarity, vivid writing, and evocative comparisons. There are many types of figurative language including: onomatopoeia, synecdoche, personification, hyperbole, metaphor, and simile.

Similes are comparisons using the words like or as to create an interesting connective spark in the reader’s or listener’s mind. These connections may deepen the meaning of the first word in the simile or describe it more fully.

Some similes are used so often in conversation and writing they are considered clichés. These include: happy as a clam, busy as a bee, strong as an ox, soft as silk, as bright as a button, as brave as a lion, and slept like a log.

Clichés are considered to be overly used pieces of language, but the reality is, they are useful. Plus, they can be fun try and twist into something different, as in The Wizard of Oz, one of the character is the Cowardly Lion. The character’s quest to become as brave as a lion so he can truly be the king of the forest takes the cliché and makes it into the character’s mission, instead of his simple state of being.

So, cliché or not, similes can be fun to play with in your writing, speaking, and creative work.

Simple Similes and Complex Similes

ABSTRACT TO CONCRETE SIMILES

“My love is like a red, red rose.” – Robert Burns, “A Red, Red Rose”

In this example, Robert Burns compares his love, which is an abstract noun, to a red rose, a concrete noun. In this case, the abstract concept of love is personal to the poet, and he deepens his description by using the concrete example of a red, red rose.

If you’re having trouble with similes, I suggest trying it out with an abstract noun as the first noun in the simile, then adding your own more personalized definition in the form of a concrete noun.

Here is an example of a simple, abstract to concrete similes:

My hope is like a rainbow.

Here is an example of a more complex abstract to concrete simile.

My irritation is like a fly, trapped against the window pane on a summer day.

Concrete noun connected to concrete action

The water made a sound like kittens lapping.” — The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

In this simile, the noun “sound” is compared to the action “kittens lapping.” On the surface, both are simple and concrete, yet “kittens lapping” deepens the description of the sound the water is making. The water could make a sound like a roar, or a rushing wind, but instead it is making a sound like “kittens lapping.”

An example I created: The wind made a sound like the ocean crashing onto the surf.

Description to Deeper Description, Complex Simile

“She entered with ungainly struggle like some huge awkward chicken, torn, squawking, out of its coop.” — The Adventure of the Three Gables, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

In this example, it’s good to slow down and look at what is being compared in it. Is it the woman and the chicken? Or is the woman’s “ungainly struggle” and a “huge awkward chicken, torn, squawking, out of its coop”? It is actually the woman’s actions being compared to the chicken’s actions, giving us a more detailed descriptive image of the woman as she enters.

Here is an example I created (or tried to create):

He slumped down the sidewalk with sad shoulders sloped as deeply as a crevasse falling into deep, icy waters.

A Complex Simile Connecting Two Descriptive Phrases

A hot wind was blowing around my head, the strands of my hair lifting and swirling in it, like ink spilled in water. – A Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

In this simile, look closely. Is the the simple noun phrase “strands of hair” compared to the simple noun phrase “ink spilled in water…or is it comparing the phrase “hair lifting and swirling” to the phrase “ink spilled in water”? It is the latter. The figurative language creates both a connection and a vivid description of the moment.

My attempted example: Cold rain dripped from the water spout and ran like icy fingers traced down my arm.

Writing Warm Up Exercise – Finish the following phrases:

  • As bright as the
  • As fast as
  • As slow as
  • As hard as
  • As steady as
  • I woke up like

Writing Exercise:

Use the examples above and write a simile for each of the following:

  • Write a simile cliché you’ve heard before.
  • Write a simple simile based on an abstract noun (an emotion or idea) with a concrete noun (object, place, animal, person).
  • Write a complex simile connecting an abstract noun and a concrete noun with description.
  • Write a simile between a noun and an action.
  • Write a simile connecting a description of someone’s actions with the actions of an animal.
  • Write a simile connecting an action with another action.

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