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Using Similes To Make Your Writing Shine

Updated on January 1, 2015

I just began reading “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” a book of philosophical prose by Annie Dillard that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. I’d expected it to be good, and as soon as I read the first paragraph I knew it would be. Why? It was picturesque, vivid and filled with similes.

I love metaphors and similes. When I find one I especially like, I record it in a small blue spiral notebook I keep just for that purpose.

Similes, I’ve found, enliven language, fiction or non-fiction.

What Exactly is a Simile?

A simile is a type of metaphor that makes a comparison between two dissimilar things, often by using the words like or as.

A good simile often creates a vivid image in the mind of the reader. But it’s like telling a joke, it either works or falls flat. If the reader has to try too hard to “get it” then the simile should be tossed away.

The easiest way to create a simile is to visualize what you’re writing about and let a simile pop into your mind. Then come back to it later to see if it works.

Most similes create a parallel image in which something familiar, such as an ox, is used to help a reader understand something unfamiliar, such as a character's physical strength. However, similes should be original, not clichés.

Favorites I’ve Recorded Over the Years

1. “The cuff of his ancient flannel shirt is as soft as a spaniel’s ear.” From “The Mercy Killers” by Lisa Reardon

2. “He looked as frantic as a lottery winner who’d lost his ticket.” From “Liar’s Poker” by Michael Lewis

3. “The ends of his moustache were twisted up stiffly, like little horns.” From “My Antonia” by Willa Cather

4. "The sea was then a very tender blue, like the dress of the Virgin Mary." From "Mixing Cocktails" by Jean Rhys

5. “I tried to keep still, but my heart felt like crickets scratching to get out of a cage.” From “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan

6. “She could twist him around her little finger like he was the red on a barber pole.” From “Fried Green Tomatoes” by Fannie Flagg

7. She moved with a thrilling quickness, gestures sudden and light, always perched on the edge of her chair like some long elegant marsh-bird about to startle and fly away." From "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt

8. “The Mercedes’s spiffy dials and gauges were now lit up like a fighter plane’s.” From “The Bonfire of the Vanities," by Tom Wolfe

9. “I slid to my feet and found no balance. The stool wobbled roundly on its base, like a coin.” From “Money” by Martin Amis.

10. “Standing on the terrace was like being on the prow of a ship sailing over a sea of Manhattan rooftops.” From “One Fifth Avenue” by Candace Bushnell

As I continued reading Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” I found many good similes, cast like bright jewels throughout her prose. Here’s one more: “You can guess statistically what any batch of electrons might do, but you cannot predict the career of any one particle. They seem to be as free as dragonflies.”

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    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Good collection of similes, Elyse Haldeman, and a well-written article. Why not add some pictures for more impact? Voted up!

    • Silver Poet profile image

      Silver Poet 7 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

      Your hub is like a refreshing story, crafted with skill.