Thursday, May 10, 2012

Like what?

"In argument similes are like songs in love; they describe much, but prove nothing." - Frank Kafka

I think I do some of my best thinking while reading other peoples' blogs.  A couple of days ago I was defending Indies over at RG's place and, as a result, picked a book back up that I'd set down several weeks before in disgust.  See, it's a "normal" book, one that's written by a guy who's earned a "#1 NYT Bestselling Author" on the cover, a book that has on its spine the G/C insignia of an imprint of the Hachette Group, a Big 6 publisher. 

I'm on page 44 of the book; I've smacked it down once already due to a crappy premise and underdeveloped, stupid characters.  But my reading pile was low, and I was curious to remind myself how bad the "good" side of writing can be, so I gave it another try. Thus, on page 44, I began again: "Between the two chairs and [the other one] was a three-foot-wide wall of four-inch polycarbonate glass that ran from floor to ceiling."

Whoa.  How in the heck do you get a three-foot-wide wall made of glass that's four inches thick?  Okay, sure, you can laminate nine panes together, but that makes it tough to conduct an interview through. And why would you do that to polycarbonate glass, anyway?

Was the editor paying attention?  I suspect, not. 

Then: "He was six foot eight and extremely lean, like a giant number two pencil."  Oh, come on!  *sound of book slamming shut*  That's a simile I'd expect to read in a spoof, not a real story. 

I like similes, generally.  A well-done simile caresses the page like a silken sheet over a lover's body--revealing just enough, but not too much.  And smooth, always smooth.

"Like a giant number two pencil" ain't smooth.  And neither is the brandest-newest hardback-sized divot on the surface of my wall.

That got me to thinking, though, about some of the good, and the bad, similes of our time.  Stuff like:

"A day without sunshine is, like, you know, night." - Steve Martin

"A book without words is like love without a kiss; it's empty." - Andrew Wolfe (which brings to question the adage "a picture is worth a thousand words" when considering that the only books I've ever seen without words are picture books--are they really empty, or worth a thousand words per picture?)

"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?" - Mark Twain

"The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't." - Anonymous, but brilliant, in a very, very un-smooth sort of way.  I'd never put that in a serious work of prose, certainly, but it's fun to read on Facebook. 

So, anyway, what's your favorite simile or metaphor?



  1. This got me wondering, so I went to see how lame the similes were in my WIP. I don't use a lot, but this is what I have in a 100k novel:

    "The sword at her side was made of light steel and it darted through the air like a hummingbird when she practiced with it."

    "A powerful twist snapped her neck like a dry twig."

    "She was sure the muscles on his fingers were bigger than her arms and he might squish her like a bug."

    "The words hammered like a judgment."

    "Albert was a burly man built like a tree."

    "His soothing voice wrapped around her like armor."

    "He was calm in manner and spoke like a breeze rustling the trees."

    "Appana said, her honey voice soothing the air like a salve."

    None of them are great, but none suck like a Hoover either. :D I'm an Indie, so I can't afford to leave in crappy similes for my editor to miss. ;)

    1. I definitely agree that none suck like a Hoover. I like "burly man built like a tree," in fact. "...hammered like a judgment" comes off wrong to me, because I don't think of judgments hammering. Ringing, perhaps, but not hammering. The "snapped like a twig" might be a little overused, but that might also just be me.

      Glad to hear I got someone to thinking! :-)


    2. Snapped like a twig is overused, but I think it will get the image across while being largely invisible, which is fine by me.

      You're right about the words hammered like a judgment. I'm thinking of a gavel on that one maybe? I'll have to look at it again. :)