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How To Write An Effective Analogy

Updated on March 19, 2014

First a Definition

When an analogy is really singing, it's what you want it to be.

Ethan Hawke

One of the most effective grammatical tools in a writer’s tool shed is the analogy. It is also one that is quite often misused by writers.

Before I teach you how to properly use an analogy, perhaps we should start with a simple definition. An analogy is a prolonged comparison between two things that are usually considered as dissimilar. They are used to illustrate and explain by traveling from something familiar to something that is unfamiliar, comparing several points and counterpoints.

They are often confused with similes. A simile does compare two dissimilar objects, but it is an abbreviated explanation using the words “like” or “as.” An example of a simile, then, would be the following: Her hair was like golden sunshine. In this example, the reader understands what the comparison means, but there is no extended explanation involved as there would be in an analogy.

A writer's platform is like......
A writer's platform is like...... | Source

Example of an Analogy

Let’s use the one I started at the very beginning of this article where I discussed the tools in a writer’s tool shed:

A writer has many tools at his/her disposal, just as a gardener has many tools in their tool shed with which to prepare a garden. The writer turns his literary soil and cultivates his article with nouns and verbs, just as a gardener might use a shovel and hoe. It is then time to fertilize the soil, mixing in adjectives and adverbs as a gardener might use compost and other nutrients.

I took very little time on that analogy but I think you understand the main points. Let’s try another one:

Building a writer’s platform can be compared to building a house. We begin with the foundation; for a writer this is his body of work to date, the articles, essays and books he has written. It is then time to frame the structure, and a writer does this by starting a blog and website. The wiring and plumbing come next as contacts are made in the writing community and networking is ramped up in intensity. Then the structure is enclosed with walls and a roof as jobs are secured, articles are purchased, and a reputation is secured.

Refer back to the definition of an analogy. A writer’s platform is definitely dissimilar to a home. There is a comparison that illustrates and explains as we bounce from familiar to the unfamiliar, and several points are compared.

Knowing how to write an analogy is all well and good; knowing when to write one is even better.

Know your audience so the analogy is not lost on them
Know your audience so the analogy is not lost on them | Source

Knowing Your Audience

The analogy that I used about a writer’s platform being like building a home is only effective if my readers understand the basics in building a home. I was betting that they would, just as I was betting that they would understand what a tool shed was when I wrote the first example up above.

Knowing your audience is crucial if you are going to write an analogy. Your point will be lost on your audience if you use examples that are completely foreign to them. A writer with an extensive background in chemistry may write an analogy that refers to some chemical reaction, but will his/her audience really understand it? If they can’t understand the example then there is no point in using the analogy.

Never over-reach with an analogy
Never over-reach with an analogy | Source

Knowing Your Limits

The other common mistake when writing analogies is when a writer goes too far or over-extends the analogy.

For example, if I were to write that movie stars are treated like kings, and then went on to compare the royal treatment that they received and the way they are pampered, I am doing a fine job with my analogy. However, if I continued by saying that movie stars are divinely ordained to lead their country I have then crossed the boundaries of common sense. Likewise, if I wrote that movie stars pass their talent and fame down to their children as kings and queens do, I again have stretched the analogy much too far.

As Kenny Rogers once said, “know when to hold them and know when to fold them.”

Now I Want You to Practice with Some

Since most of you already know that I was once a classroom teacher, it should come as no surprise that I now want you to demonstrate your understanding of this subject. Below you will find some analogy suggestions. Let’s see what you can do with one of them.

  • A gang is like a pack of hyenas
  • Just as a general leads an army, so too does a CEO lead his company
  • Gasoline is important to a car as wood is to a fire.
  • We humans love daytime as an owl loves the night.
  • A word is important to a sentence just as a page is to a book.
  • A snake hugs the ground as an eagle hugs the sky
  • An author uses a pen as an artist uses her brush
  • Leaving our comfort zone is a lot like a caterpillar leaving its cocoon.

As you try a few of these, remember that an analogy must look at several points; it is an extended comparison.

Now try filling in the blank: Falling in love is much like ____________________.

Avoiding the Obvious

One more common error when writing analogies is in stating the obvious. Analogies have a purpose, and that purpose is to be memorable. You want your readers to see the world through a vision they would never have thought of on their own. Be creative and refuse to take the easy way out when writing an analogy. All too often the easiest analogy is a cliché, and clichés are clichés because everyone uses them. Is that the type of writer you want to be known as?

Testing Your Work

Once you have written your analogy, go back over it and ask yourself some simple questions. “How is” questions are perfect for this exercise. How is a snake hugging the ground like an eagle flying in the sky? If you have trouble finding the words to answer that question then you are probably on the wrong path.

Have a friend read your analogy and ask them if you hit the nail on the head with it. If your friend is having a tough time understanding your analogy then chances are most of your readers will as well.

And Now Get out There and Make It Happen

Art is not supposed to change the world, to change practical things, but to change perceptions. Art can change the way we see the world. Art can create an analogy.

JR

I cannot say this enough: writing should be engaging and interesting. Writing should take your readers to a place they never would have visited on their own. That is your quest as a writer. It is much too easy to be mundane. Analogies allow a writer to climb over mundane and scale to fascinating.

You now have your homework. I expect to see a veritable flood of analogies from all of you in the near future. Make this old teacher proud of you!

2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Reap a bountiful harvest, Deb, and thank you!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Excellent descriptions, which are easy to understand. Thanks for another new veggie in the garden of a writer's life.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      LOL..Shyron, I'll be thinking of your husband's analogy the rest of the day. That's a classic! Thanks for the laugh.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Bill, I come here ever so often to read the comments. Just had to say Glimmer Twin Fan sounds like my hubby, who says falling in love is like trying to swim in jello, (whatever that means LOL).

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Glimmer, if that's all you've got then you've got a lot. I love analogies and I love reading the attempts of other writers. Well done my friend.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

      Falling in love is much like autumn leaves falling gently to the ground while cool breezes gently caress them. That's the best I've got. I think I'd much rather write a tutorial. LOL. Helpful hub though.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome vkwok; thank you!

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for the lessons, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Heidi, any good public speaker is aware of analogies and uses them to their benefit. I have no doubt you are well-versed in this great tool

      Sixty degrees? Get the shorts out of storage, slip them on, and enjoy the weekend!

      Thank you!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Analogy is one of the best tools for teaching... ever! When students or readers are unfamiliar or confused with a new subject, analogy helps bridge the gap between what they know and what they don't. This has served me well not only in writing, but in public speaking, too. Good review of the technique, as always. Happy Weekend! (It's finally going to be 60 here today - yay!)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      John, that is an excellent example of an analogy. Well done my friend. Thank you and have a great weekend.

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 3 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      Oh yes, teachers can't help but teach and the ones of us who love to be students can't help but come back to learn more. Thanks for the marvelous brain expansion and marching me through English class once again with some passion.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Hey Bill, another good lesson here, let's see:

      "Falling in love is like free-fall sky diving where your parachute doesn't open until the very last second."

      Here is an excerpt from my poem "The Garden Poem" that I think is an example of an analogy

      "My garden reminds me of a poem

      Though it's full of flowers, not words

      Instead of rhyme, there's parsley and thyme

      And in place of stanzas, there's birds."

      Have a good day.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Manatita, thank you Sir. It is my pleasure to give what was freely given to me.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 3 years ago from london

      Well done, Bill.

      The teacher, all right, but a selfless and soulfully giving one.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      MizB, excellent! I would love to see more writers stretch their abilities to include this wonderful grammatical tool....and you just gave a great example of how powerful analogies can be. Thank you!

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 years ago

      Bill, here is a true example I've turned into an analogy. It's an old axiom that I don’t think is confined to just the Ozarks.

      “When you sleep with dogs, expect to get fleas.”

      When I was a young divorcee, the Rev. Tom Busby did a weekly morning show at the radio station where I worked. One day he heard another single gal and me lamenting about our dumb luck with men. He gave us the good advice “to find our man in church and we wouldn’t go wrong.” He was telling us not to go to bars and be pickups or we would be sleeping with dogs. If we found an upright man of the church, we wouldn’t get fleas – or possibly anything else.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Alphadogg, I love that you are already trying them. That is the mark of a writer trying to become better. Well done!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you DDE....I try to do my part for other writers.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      My pleasure Dora! All I ask is that you try. Sooner rather than later the analogies will come easy for you. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I am honored, greatstuff. Thank you!

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 3 years ago from Texas

      Great read & helpful tips billy buc, as I am always using analogies & may not be grammatically correct. Thumbs up on your hub.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      An interesting insight to writing an effective analogy you have made such helpful points and always informative.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Bill, I try with analogies but I guess I can do more. Making the sentence easy to remember is a worthy goal. Thanks especially for the reminder about over-reaching.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Hi Bill,

      · A gang is like a pack of hyenas

      A mob, a bunch of criminals, I guess you could compare the gang to the pack, except the pack is mean to mean they are vicious in order to survive and the bunch are mean out of greed.

      · Just as a general leads an army, so too does a CEO lead his company

      A general takes on more responsibility than the men he leads, and a CEO is someone who passes on responsibility to subordinates. But they are similar in that they are over other people.

      · Gasoline is important to a car as wood is to a fire.

      I can see the analogy of gasoline to car - as wood to a fire. Both are fuels for their intended purpose and yet they are different in regards to their function.

      · We humans love daytime as an owl loves the night.

      Do all humans love the daytime? Do owls love the night? Or do owl find more food at night.

      · A word is important to a sentence just as a page is to a book.

      A single word is not necessarily important to a sentence. And a single page is not so important to a book, I guess it would depend on what word or what page.

      · A snake hugs the ground as an eagle hugs the sky

      This is not analogous to me at all. The snake can only stay earthbound, the eagle can hug the sky, hug the ground or hug a tree. So there is no similarity.

      · An author uses a pen as an artist uses her brush

      A pen can be used to draw and even paint especially if it is a calligrapher’s pen. Similarly and a brush can be used as a pen but not probably.

      · Leaving our comfort zone is a lot like a caterpillar leaving its cocoon.

      We always return to the comfort zone. Does the caterpillar return to the cocoon?

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 3 years ago from Malaysia

      This is great. I will be bookmarking this under my 'How to...” section. This is where most of your tutorials go to! Thanks Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Faith. I'm far from brilliant my dear. As with many things, practice is so important, and I've practiced analogies for years.

      Have a wonderful remainder of the evening, and blessings always

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you once more, Glenn! I think analogies are one of the most powerful tools we have as writers, but only if used properly.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      I learned so much reading this dear Bill. I thought your analogies that you said did not take you long to write were actually brilliant. This is a most helpful hub here for all, especially me. I am going to practice a bit, as my brain is tired this night, and see what I can come up with when I am fresh. I promise to do my homework.

      Up and more, tweeting, pinning and sharing

      Have a lovely evening,

      Faith Reaper

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      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I like how you used an analogy to describe what a good analogy is, Billy. And you also clarified a few points for me, despite my thinking that I knew it all. It is important not to make an analogy into a cliché. The overuse of clichés reduces its effectiveness.

      I'm going to keep these things in mind as I write future articles. The proper use of an analogy can be very powerful, I can see that.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It really is my pleasure, cecileportilla! Thank you!

    • cecileportilla profile image

      Cecile Portilla 3 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      Another great Article billybuc. Thanks for always sharing such useful information with the rest of us! Voted up!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Crystal. It is such an effective tool and yet few writers use it.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      lifegate, I'm glad someone finally remarked about the toilet. LOL I was afraid I was the only one who would laugh at that. Thank you my friend.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      Excellent tutorial Bill. It's been a while since I've visited this writing tool. This was a great review.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      When I graduated I thought I'd never have to do homework again. Well, I guess I was wrong. Better get to it. Thanks again for another challenge whereby the student can learn from the teacher. Oh, and I love the picture of the toilet.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, your brain wasn't so tired that it kept you from a wonderful analogy, one I agree with completely.

      Get some rest my hard-working friend and thank you always.

      bill

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      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Falling in love is like jumping into a deep pool; it's refreshing, gets warmer the longer you stay there and has unfathomable depths to explore.

      Like another hubber said here, I too thought your title read 'apology'!! Must be more tired than I thought at the end of the day. I have had an hour of intense exercise so I think my brain has faded with my body!

      Another needful and expert lesson from the great teacher, bill. Also shared this as there are so many who need to take heed!

      Enjoy your evening, bill. Ann

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ruby, I literally laughed out loud at the last one. Thanks for the chuckle.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Steph, I'll eagerly await your response....hopefully those damn stars will align soon. :) Thank you my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, you may not be a master like the Master, but you did well for spur of the moment. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      LOL....Too late, Flourish. The cat is out of the bag and he's pooped in the living room. :)

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Believe it or not, i get it! Now to practice...

      Falling in love is like floating on a soft cloud.

      Buying a new house was easier than buying a new pickup truck. Hee

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 3 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Aaack! Homework?! I have enough trouble motivating my four kids to complete theirs each night. I was going to try to come up with an analogy to how difficult that is, but I am drawing a blank. I guess its time for me to log off and go run errands.

      Great hub. I will have to come back with a witty response when the stars are better aligned....

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

      A snake hugs the ground as an eagle hugs the sky. A snake slithers and glides along the terrain much like an eagle takes flight and soars through the clouds.

      Falling in love is much like being on a Ferris wheel. Sometimes you're up and sometimes, you're down.

      Well, we can't all be like Jesus - He was a master at analogies. But this was a fun hub!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sheila, it's funny what will cause any of us to freeze and not be able to write. I was the same way in school. Put a time limit on something and I'm in trouble; give me the freedom to writer at my leisure without guidelines and I could write all day. :) Thanks for sharing that, Sheila, and I hope you are having a splendid day.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      I'm feeling a bit snarky today so I won't use the love analogy that comes to mind. Something about stepping in dog poop and it always being with you, even after the physical evidence is apparently washed away, and how its remnants infiltrate your life blah blah. I guess I just couldn't help myself. I'm stopping now. Love is grand and its remnants last a long time, impacting everything you do.

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      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      Homework?!?!?! Are you kidding me? I thought I was done with that when I graduated college. I hope you're laughing. My problem through all of my schooling was freezing up when being required to write. I know you're not saying we have to do this, but it is a good idea to get some practice. I can't create a good analogy if someone asks me to do it, but if I'm rolling along with a novel or hub, it seems to come naturally to know when seems appropriate and the words roll onto the page. That all said, I know I've made the mistake of comparing two things and the readers probably are clueless about both. I'll have to remember your advice on that point.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome, Eric, and thank you for being here once again.

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      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thank you for setting me straight here. This is a very useful hub.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      MizB, thank you....and your point about writing them so they don't become trite is right on. I look forward to reading some that you come up with about the Ozarks. :) I have no doubt they will be entertaining.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 years ago

      Pretty neat, Bill. Analogies are good -- and can be hard to write without becoming trite. I liked your video about snorkeling and scuba diving. We have some pretty good similes in the Ozarks that could be turned into interesting analogies. I'll have to practice on some of them.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It was a successful exercise for sure, Sha, and I got to talk to some really cool people.

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      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Cool. I voted for over 5!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      BNadyn, I'm excited that you even try to write them. LOL Not many writers will take the chance. I'm sure yours are just fine. Thanks for sharing your experience and happy writing my friend.

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      Bernadyn 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida

      I like writing analogies but aren't always sure if they make sense or just make sense to me! This hub will be good to look back on when I'm not sure. Im actually working on an analogy right now so I'm glad to have read this. Useful and pinning. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mari, analogies are tough to write, but as with your example, they are very rewarding when done well. :) Good morning my friend and thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, they really are a marvelous tool for writers to use.

      I got ten yesterday, missed two others in the evening, and received one this morning so far. :)

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      dragonflycolor 3 years ago

      Falling in love is much like skydiving. You think you are preparing for the big leap with a protective chute of faith and knowledge so that you land on your two feet, but soon realize that you are leaping into the vast atmosphere attached to another person hopefully knowing they are as committed to reach the end of the dive with you.

      Analogies are tough!

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      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Another article to add to my resource file. Analogies can add depth to a story or even a how-to article. They can provide clarity to the reader, much as a light bulb clears the shadows from a dark room.

      BTW, how many phone calls did you receive yesterday, Bill?

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love it Donna! I have found people really have trouble with analogies...hopefully this will help. Thanks for mentioning that other exercise.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sujaya, we can always hope. :) Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Lizzy, I'm laughing, because I typed that on three different occasions while writing this. We both need help. LOL Thanks for the laugh, Dunedin.

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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jackie, you are a comedian and priceless. Crack all the jokes you want to here. Pull up a chair and get comfy.

      Thank you Jackie....and I look forward to your answer.

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      Cygnet Brown 3 years ago from Springfield, Missouri

      Another exercise that I was shown a few years ago was to turn cliches into more colorful analogies. For instance "the game of life" turned into an analogy based on the premise of life becoming the Milton Bradley board game "Life".

    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 3 years ago

      practice makes everyone perfect bil

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      Liz Davis 3 years ago from Hudson, FL

      When I first saw this title, I thought it said "How to Write an Effective Apology". Oh man, I need help. Hahah!

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      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Falling in love is like.....

      But today my answer would be so much different than it would have been say....fifteen years ago. HP wouldn't even allow my answer today. lol OK I am just the comedian; not trying to ruin your work. Great job. Don't know how I would do today but was a straight A English student back when. Thumbs up.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, do you ever have quiet time? LOL I'm glad you liked this grammatical lesson and good luck. Have a great day my dear friend.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 3 years ago from New York, New York

      Love this advice and pinned, because I definitely could use some practice and not too proud to admit this. So, thank you so much for sharing and will be referring back to later on in the next few days when I have some quiet time to play around with this. Wishing you a wonderful Wednesday now!