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Sentence Strengthening Sunday--Metaphors and Similes

Over the next few weekends, I'll share what I've learned--and am still learning--from various writing books and blogs that have made a tremendous difference in my manuscripts by strengthening and simplifying my sentences. Not only how to spot weaknesses, but how to fix them as well.

Previous topics:

Metaphors and Similes 

(Okay. This might not necessarily fall into 'sentence strengthening', but it's important enough that we're going to cover it.)


Simile: a figure of speech often comparing two unlike things. Usually introduced with the words "like" or "as"

example: The blade cut through her skin like a knife through warm butter.

Metaphor:  a comparison between two things based on similarity and used as an actual substitute. Or as Aristotle defined it: giving a thing a name that belongs to something else.

example: Her eyes were blue sapphires.

There's actually a list of different types of metaphors over here at the OWL  if you're interested.

The definitions for the these two words vary, but I think this quote sums it up best:

"The simile sets two ideas side by side; in the metaphor they become superimposed."
(F.L. Lucas, Style. Macmillan, 1955)

There's some differing opinions on which is best to use and why, but I think there's really only two things to remember when dealing with writing a metaphor or simile:

Make it clear


Avoid the cliche

Make it clear is self-explanatory. You want the reader to form a clear picture of what you're describing. Comparisons only work when they make sense.

Avoiding the cliche is a little trickier. It requires time and serious thought to create awesome and original comparisons. But I've found a neat little brainstorming technique in Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark.

*First, start with the cliched phrase. In Clark's example they use 'white as snow'.
*Scribble the phrase down on a piece of paper
* Start scribbling out some alternatives. (They don't have to be exactly what you're looking for. The key is to let your mind wander.)

white as snow
white as Snow White
snowy white
gray as city snow
gray as the London sky
  . . .

All of the alternatives might not be exactly what you're looking for, but you can always save the good ones for later. And by letting your mind stray, you'll be able to think outside of the box and produce some great comparisons that will make your writing engaging and entertaining.
Amanda Hannah

Amanda grew up on a big farm in a small town with one stoplight, one school, and a handful of imaginary friends.She would’ve gone to college forever, but eight years and five majors tested her advisor’s patience. So she moved to Germany to explore creepy castles before landing in Spain where she’s perfecting her Flamenco.

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  1. This is a great description of the two. THanks.


  2. Great post- I especially like your tips on avoiding cliches! I shall be trying that out very soon.

  3. I absolutely love this Sunday feature and shall be pimping it out wherever I can.

    Thanks for all the awesome!

  4. Nice idea about how to brainstorm yourself away from the cliche.

    I have a Dimwit's Dictionary of Overused Sayings that was pretty much my bible when I wrote my first book.

  5. Avoiding cliches is so hard.

    Just last night I got stumped on "as serious as..." I didn't want to say a heart attack, because that feels cliche even when I'm just saying it.


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Item Reviewed: Sentence Strengthening Sunday--Metaphors and Similes Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Amanda Hannah