Aright, so here’s the dealio, you feel me? Fine, you probably couldn’t get through the article if I used that writing style. I get it. I see how it is. I suppose I’ll just get to the point then. Metaphor and Simile. There, that’s the point, in a sentence fragment. Should’ve used a colon, I suppose, but this article isn’t one of those dullllll grammar thingies.
Having now established myself as some kind of bizarre amalgamation of a valley girl and that one old crazy uncle who won’t shut up, let’s get to the crux of the biscuit. By the way, never use any form of “amalgamate”—it’s pretentious, like “behoove” or “pontification.” If you don’t know what “pontification” means, then you’ll probably believe me when I say that it means behaving in a manner similar to that of the Pope.
Person A: “Hey there, Person B, why are you wearing such a large hat?” Person B: “Oh, I’m just pontificating, yo.”
“Gregarious” is another bad one. Gregarious, adjective: Precariously pertaining to Greg. Greg, noun: former lead singer of hit Australian childrens’ band The Wiggles. Man, this article is like pulling teeth. That isn’t a good simile, because pulling teeth, in modern dentistry, is done under anaesthesia, so it actually wouldn’t be painful at all. However, this expression used to be a cliché talking about a tedious and painful experience. While it is now rendered essentially fossilized, I’m going to use it as a poorly constructed and long-overdue segue into talking about the topic at hand: Metaphor and Simile. These tools, like proper nouns, are always capitalized. These are smaller tools than Bono.
Metaphor and simile are two of the most important rhetorical tools in a writer’s arsenal. They are flat-out the best descriptive tool you have, and not only can they do with one word what could more directly (in the linguistic sense) be done with three or four, but they can also evoke emotions or give the reader a sense of mood that they would not otherwise have.
Like any powerful weapon, metaphor or simile can be used either for great good or unspeakable evil. Consider them to be like the Death Star of writing. You can either use the Death Star to destroy Alderaan even though Leia already told you the Rebel base was on Dantooine, or you can use it to blow up Endor and take out those fricking annoying Ewoks. Technically, the latter course of action would theoretically occur with the second Death Star, so let me clarify that an effective metaphor or simile needn’t be preceded by a poorly constructed one with a fatal flaw that can be exploited by a fey farmboy.
That analysis was far too in-depth, of course: the metaphor of the Death Star as a powerful weapon was an effective one. The analysis would be like if one read the sentence, “he fought like a man possessed” and started nit-picking about whether a man actually being occupied by demonic forces would fight differently than a man who wasn’t. By the way, they totally would, as anyone who’s ever seen The Exorcist would tell you. Metaphors and similes should work on a somewhat basic and clear, if not obvious, level. “What’s the difference?” you may ask. Go on, ask. Come on, you still haven’t. Oh fine, I’ll show you anyway.
“His eyes burned like fire.”
This is an example of an obvious, i.e. bad, simile. I can think of very few things that burn without fire. Dinner, I guess, but are blackened, inedible fish sticks the mental image you’re really trying to summon here? Try something more like,
“His eyes burned like a rising sun.”
Obviously, this simile still feels a bit bare-bones without a more complete sentence or context, but while “fire” was rather redundant and thus would evoke little imagery not already in the mind of the reader, the rising sun implies many things. It reaffirms and magnifies the burning, firstly, and it also evokes a sense of hopefulness, a sense of things to come. The rising sun is a famous symbol, and does far more than simply reaffirm the verb. A metaphor or simile should always accomplish something beyond what the verb alone could, or else you’re just boosting your word count. Word.
Count. That was terrible. Anyway, now that you’ve got down use of the handy thesaurus to get the same basic point but with a greater (and yet still clear but not obvious) meaning, you’re pretty much set for using metaphor and simile, right? RIGHT! ..Wait, no, that’s not the one… hm. Oh yeah. WRONG! That was smooth, like the stomach of a newborn baby. Of course, the stomach of a newborn baby wouldn’t really be smooth, because you’ve got the umbilical cord, and there would probably all sorts of gross woman-juices on it (please, hold your astonishment at my vast knowledge of the female innardy things), so it wouldn’t be particularly smooth. Of course, baby’s ass is the usual term, rather than newborn baby’s stomach, but that’s a cliché, and we must avoid cliché, mustn’t we? It’s almost as annoying as rhetorical questions and the use of the word “mustn’t.” But I digress. Surely, you’ve noticed that by now. Also, I said but. Hehe.
Now, a metaphor or simile should do more than a mere verb could, should broaden or sharpen the description of something, but at the same time it must feel similarly to the words around it. “ Feel words, Reginald? How can one feel a word?” you might ask. Oh, go on, ask. Don’t leave me hangin’, bro. Okay, fine, but this is the last time I give in. While one cannot feel a word physically, a word must be emotionally and environmentally congruous, or else must contrast its surroundings in such a way that it actually enhances them. Consider words as the cast of the hit CBS series How I Met Your Mother: while a majority of the cast behave in an essentially similar fashion, thus bringing them together, Barney, one of the indisputably best sitcom characters in history (NPH is my homeboy), is so different from the group that he better highlights their attributes. Upon closer analysis, of course, he actually shares quite a lot with the group, but these similarities are not readily apparent.
So maybe that was a bit of a stretch, or perhaps you simply don’t watch How I Met Your Mother. Either complaint forgivable, and I suppose I should make a more general proof.
Consider angle (dude). Suppose one were to divide the sine of (dude) by the cosine of (dude). Then one would get a tan(dude)!
Again, that was terrible. Proof somewhat relevant to the last paragraph of crap that you slogged through is in order.
“Her hand, soft and smooth like a rabid porcupine, brushed lightly against mine as we simultaneously reached for the salt.”
Aside from sounding like an excerpt from a pukeworthy romance novel (www.sandrahill.net) , the image of a rabid porcupine is both entirely contrary to its surrounding “cast” and adds nothing to the greater picture. Let’s try a more appropriate metaphor for a less vomitous sentence.
“Climbing into the old attic, the first thing that caught my attention was the sunlight streaming lazily through the skylight, lighting up a thousand particles of ancient dust like stars finally brought within reach.”
This is a lengthy and purple sentence, but let’s focus on the simile, shall we? Yes, let’s. Dust as stars. While not two immediately equitable things, most people have seen this sort of phenomenon, so their relation is clear. What purpose does this metaphor serve? Stars are millions, or billions, or whatever, miles, or lightyears, or whatever, away. Very far. Zanzibar, Zanzibar, Zanzibar is very far. You can’t get there in a car. Zanzibar. Thank you, Mr. William Harley. Anyway, stars are not readily within grasp, whereas this dust is—the reader is given the idea that something ancient and valuable is within reach, and the location of the sentence in context, the attic, would fit in with such an idea.
Now onto the value of contrast! A fairly simple concept, but let’s execute just to make sure we get the point across. This is known as the French Revolution style of writing, which involves a very short period of glory followed by centuries of disappointment and moral decay.
“As I handed him the papers he thanked me, his smile as warm as a cadaver in the dead of winter.”
Okay, do I really have to go through this on such an anal level? You’re all smart people, right? You’re reading for the lulz. Whatever, just in case: the contrast brought about by the juxtaposition of “warm” and the metaphor create a feeling and image that are just as clear as a “regular” cast of words, but with perhaps a little more character invoked. This is particularly useful when writing, as the author of the example was, in the first person. It gives a good opportunity for slipping in a one-liner and the irony gives the reader the feeling that the character is witty, sarcastic, and amusing, in the obnoxious sort of way that every good antihero should be—in the way that Murtagh so desperately is not. On a completely unrelated note I would like to point out that any banter between characters that feels like the author is talking to himself ends up looking kind of embarrassing.
So. There you have it. Taking what actual information this little lecture had to offer, I would sincerely hope that you can go out there and use metaphor and simile without making yourself look like a moron. Because remember, if you look like a moron, then your sensei looks like a moron. Bow to your sensei! I SAID BOW TO YOUR SENSEI!
Now go use the hell out of those metaphors! High meta-five!
I could go on.