Ah, the metaphor and the simile.  Two of the most delightful tools of the writer.  They are like the precedent a lawyer needs to build a case.  Enabling one to show how two seemingly vastly different scenarios are exactly the same.

similePhoto by Dominic Alves

What can you do to improve yours?  Write them so they make sense.

The simile I wrote in the first paragraph, for example, makes sense coming from me because I’m a lawyer.  What I’m saying is that when you sit at your computer and search your heart for the perfect way to describe an image or a situation, consider more than just beauty of language and aptness of phrase-also check that the comparisons fit the character.

In addition to being  a lot of fun, tailoring your metaphors and similes to your POVs is a great way to distinguish the voices in your piece.  Below are a few things to think about when crafting metaphors and similes in fiction:

Tailor Similes and Metaphors to Profession

Have you ever noticed how professional jargon seems to slip into everyday speak?

My medical student friend was advised to stay away from a certain department because it was “malignant.”  And when I worked as a financial journalist, I found myself using the word “acquire” instead of “buy” when discussing the purchase of a pair of shoes.

We all do it and fictional people should too.

How would a painter describe the color of someone’s hair?  How would a kindergarten teacher muse on the behavior of her friend’s child? Ask yourself, how would a person in your character’s profession describe his or her situation?

Use the Right Similes and Metaphors for Age/Experience

When a child watches the glamorous celebrity accept her Oscar, she sees Cinderella.  When the mother watches, she simply sees Lupita.  This makes sense because the child has no idea who Lupita is but she does know Cinderella—she’s the princess in the blue dress and headband.

Age, experience and education play a huge part in how we see the world.  They determine the extent of our knowledge and ability to understand what we are seeing.

A disinterested teenager who spends his days playing video games probably wouldn’t say that a pattern on a pillow “reminds him of a Monet.”  Likewise, a revered art historian is not likely to compare a dramatic situation to Grand Theft Auto.

In practices in The Write Practice comments, I’ve often seen child characters use dialogue that is simply too sophisticated for their age.  This is because it’s the writer speaking rather than the character.  You can also fall into this trap when dealing with characters who aren’t supposed to be very educated.  Don’t be afraid to simplify language if it makes sense.

State of Mind Affects Similes and Metaphors, Too

Metaphors and similes should also align with the character’s feelings or moods.  In the chapter where he’s in love, the birds chirping are a beautiful love song.  But when he’s angry, the birds sound like nails on a chalk board.  Reversed, they take away from the sentiment that you are trying to create.  By making them coincide with the plot, they reinforce it.

How about you? How do you tailor similes and metaphors to your characters?

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes to write a scene using a metaphor and/or simile that is unique to the character.  Share with us below!

Monica M. Clark
Monica M. Clark

Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).