Thursday, March 24, 2011

Similes and Metaphors—Comparisons R Us!

Week of March 20—Language Play for Lively Writing    
Thursday, March 24—Similes and Metaphors—Comparisons R Us!

s A simile is a comparison of two things using like or as.
s A simile usually compares two things that are different, but have some common link or connection.

His feet were as big as boats.
The twins are like two peas in a pod.
The baby’s hands were like an octopus’ tentacles.

s A metaphor states that one thing is something else.
s It is a comparison, but does NOT use like or as.

Her hair is silk.
Harold is a wet blanket at parties.
My pillow was a soft cloud.

Similes and metaphors are powerful tools for making connections for readers. Something totally unknown to the reader (my brother, Butch, for instance) and compare it to something the readers does have knowledge of or can picture (a snarling bull) and you can help the reader know more about Butch. For instance:

Butch is like a snarling bull.
Butch is a snarling bull.

The two most common mistakes writers make with similes and metaphors are to use ones that are too common, familiar, and trite AND to compare things so unrelated that the reader doesn’t make the needed connection. Yes, go for the unexpected, but make your simile or metaphor cause the reader to understand and think, NOT wonder and ponder.

Let’s look to some great books for examples of similes and metaphors.

Do you know that Jane Yolen has written more than 300 books? So when Jane Yolen speaks, we need to listen and when she writes, we need to read. Look at this gorgeous description that includes a simile.

Well, child, I recall once upon a time
an old woman lived on our street,
oldest woman I’d ever seen.
Her hair was white and fine
like the fluff off a dandelion.

From: Miz Berlin Walks by Jane Yolen and Floyd Cooper, p. 4

Quality similes populate All the Colors of the Earth. Here are a few:

Children come with hair like bouncy baby lambs,
Or hair that flows like water,
Or hair curls like sleeping cats in snoozy cat colors.

From: All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka, pp. 15-18

This warm-hearted picture book is filled with superb writing. Notice how the simile is tucked into a sentence to complete the description. I now know exactly what tap shoes sound like!

The song and dance man begins to dance the old soft shoe. His feet move slowly at first, while his tap shoes make soft, slippery sounds like rain on a tin roof.

From: Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman and Stephen Gammell, p. 16

In Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children, Sandra L. Pinkney use metaphors to compare the color of children’s skin to various items. The excerpt below is one gorgeous metaphor after another. (I’ll highlight every other line where the metaphor is most obvious, but the other lines are continued metaphors as well. NOTE: This metaphor scheme continues throughout the book.)

I am the creamy white frost in vanilla ice cream
and the milky smooth brown in a chocolate bar
I am the midnight blue in a licorice stick
and the golden brown in sugar
I am the velvety orange in a peach
and the coppery brown of a pretzel

From: Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney and Myles C. Pinkney, pp 4-5

I love how Georgia Heard wraps up her description of an eagle with a metaphor.
You must get a copy of this book—it is a master class in writing.

Eagle gliding in the sky,
circling, circling way up high—
wind is whistling through your wings.
You’re a graceful kite with no string.

From: Creatures from Earth, Sea, and Sky: Poems  by Georgia Heard and Jennifer Owings Dewey, p. 12

Ralph Fletcher has entered the blog again! Years of great writing by Fletcher give added credibility to his book Pyrotechnics on the Page: Playful Craft That Sparks Writing that I mentioned earlier this week. The following excerpt shows some of Fletcher’s creds.

My brother Tom swoops in
like an F5 torado (SIMILE)
and destroys by bedroom.

He’s a human wrecking ball (METAPHOR)
that crashes through my room
leaving trampled toys behind.

From: A Writing Kind of Day: Poems for Young Poets by Ralph Fletcher, p. 12

It’s Your Turn!
1. Try some similes of your own. If you need idea starters, use the ideas below. If not, just get busy creating.
_________________ is smart as ___________________.
_______________ is mean like  __________________.
___________________ is as strong as _________________.
_________________ is fast like  ____________________.
2. Now try some metaphors of your own making!
3. Feel free to click CONNECT and add your creations!

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