Nothing excites me more than coming across unique comparisons when I read. I love it when an author surprises me by comparing two utterly unrelated things to create a vivid picture. There are times I catch myself thinking, “I wish I had thought of that first!” because the comparisons are so superb. Unique comparisons can take something ordinary and make it exceptionally vibrant and fascinating.
Here are some ideas to help you create better comparisons and improve your writing:
1. Avoid clichés. I have heard other writers refer to clichés as “lazy writing.” Clichés are embedded in our brains and easily make their way into our manuscripts, but they aren’t unique or interesting. Both simile and metaphor clichés can tempt writers. Some examples are: “busy as a bee,” “playing cat and mouse,” and “sharp as a razor.” Whenever you come across them in your work, unless it’s in dialogue because people do tend to talk in clichés occasionally, rewrite it. Think of something else you can compare instead. Even in dialogue, they should be used sparingly. It’s always best if you can rework them.
2. Use personification. Personification can make bland objects or places fascinating. When you are writing comparisons, think of ways objects remind you of human traits or actions. Then do the opposite. Observe how certain human traits or actions remind you of objects.
3. Vary similes and metaphors. Similes can be easier to use than metaphors (at least for me,) but it’s good to vary them. If I find I am writing “like” and “as” way too often, I try to alter some of the comparisons, changing them to metaphors. Often metaphors can be the more powerful alternative. Sometimes it’s possible to make the change and sometimes it just doesn’t work.
Here are a few classic literary examples of similes and metaphors for inspiration. They create more vivid pictures than meager description:
“The café was like a battleship stripped for action.” -Ernest Hemingway
“The late afternoon sky bloomed in the window for a moment like the blue honey of the Mediterranean .” -F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Time has not stood still. It has washed over me, washed me away, as if I’m nothing more than a woman of sand, left by a careless child too near the water.” -Margaret Atwood
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances. -William Shakespeare
I definitely won’t claim to be a literary genius like the examples above, but I love using unique comparisons in my own writing. I have compared the strangest things. One of my characters described her wobbly legs to be more “like stringed cheese than solid bone.” While it is definitely a weird comparison, I think it is also creates interest. Be weird and be different. If it creates an intriguing visual it’s worth it.
George Orwell gave this writing advice: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” In other words, keep your comparisons unique and see how it changes the quality of your writing.