Monday, 27 August 2007

Metaphors and similes

A good metaphor or simile is a lovesome thing.

When I wrote, 'He felt as weak as a fly on a cold day at the end of summer', I felt ridiculously pleased with myself, because I don't often come up with descriptive phrases like that, and they do make prose more vivid.

What about the bad ones, though? 'As quiet as a mouse' - anyone who has tried to sleep with mice rampaging round the room will wonder how that saying achieved common use. And 'touch pitch and be defiled'; as a jeweller I sometimes use pitch for repousse, and it's really not that messy. 'Touch a car's engine and you'll be black from fingernail to elbow' - now that's the truth, but it doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

From the master of metaphor and simile, P G Wodehouse;

She gave me the sort of look she would have given a leper she wasn't fond of

He was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say "when!"

Her eye swivelling round stopped me like a bullet. The Wedding Guest, if you remember, had the same trouble with the Ancient Mariner

Her face was shining like the seat of a bus-driver's trousers

As for Gussie Finknottle, many an experienced undertaker would have been deceived by his appearance and started embalming on sight

Gosh, he was good. I've really got to work on this.


  1. While I like the bus-driver's trousers, my favorites are from Raymond Chandler.

    "I bent over and took hold of the room with both hands and spun it. When I had it nicely spinning I gave it a full swing and hit myself on the back of the head with the floor."

    "There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge."

  2. From The Big Sleep

    * The plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men.

    * A few locks of dry white hair clung to his scalp, like wild flowers fighting for life on a bare rock.

    * The old man nodded, as if his neck was afraid of the weight of his head.

    I know what you mean about writing that gem of a simile/metaphor. I'm thoroughly pleased with myself and disappointed that I can't use it anywhere else in the story.

  3. Oh yes, Raymond Chandler is so good...

    I'd quote some more, but my computer's in the workshop, and most of my books live at home.

    Maybe ten minutes a day brainstorming metaphors? Or is it a gift you're born with?

  4. I believe it's a skill. And, like any skill, it can be honed. We may never get to be as good as mssrs Wodehouse, Chandler, or Robbins, but we can do better.

    You might try it during your 15 minute speed writing exercises. Something may come through.

  5. Here's a good metaphor--

    "I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and Fries." - Stephen King

  6. Here's some bad metaphors -

    I am the literary equivalent and chips left on the bus...a passenger without a ticket...a black dog at Battersea Dogs' Home.

    Oh dear oh dear. I've got a long way to go with this. A lot of honing to do.

  7. It is rough. The outer conflict is a metaphor for the inner conflict...I think.

  8. This mention of Wodehouse (The Master) caused me to bring out my "Three by Wodehouse" and start rereading "Leave it to Psmith". Lord Emsworth is one of the most wonderful characters in literature. Even better than Grendel.

    At least that's what I think.

  9. Norm, you're as thickheaded as a neon pony at a pie eatin' contest.

    Possibly. No idea what it means...