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How to Spice Up Your Writing With Similes and Metaphors

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JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician and the author of books for children and adults.

Spice Up Your Writing With Similes and Metaphors

Spice Up Your Writing With Similes and Metaphors

We all use similes and metaphors every single day. They help us explain how we feel, make a point and add some color to our language. Have you ever felt as hungry as a horse? Or been so tired you slept like a baby? Or noticed how time flies like an arrow? These are all examples of similes—comparisons made between two objects by using "like" or "as" to show a connection.

Likewise, you've probably heard it said that time is money, or that life is a roller coaster, or that someone had a heart of stone. These are all metaphors, comparisons made between two objects in a more direct fashion without the use of the words "like" or "as."

Similes and metaphors are examples of figurative language. You'll find them everywhere you look, in poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction and song lyrics. They add an extra layer of meaning to what's being said, sung or written about, in the same way that the right combination of herbs and spices can lift an ordinary meal to extraordinary gastronomic heights.

The Definition of Simile

A simile is a figure of speech used to compare two objects that would seem to have nothing in common at first glance, such as alcohol and fish in the simile "He drinks like a fish". Similes are constructed using the words "like" or "as" to link the two objects together, such as:

  • He's as tall as a tree
  • Her eyes sparkled like stars in the sky

The Definition of Metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two unrelated objects directly, such as:

  • Her eyes are stars shining brightly
  • He's a rock

In a simile, the comparison is indirect, such as "Her hair is like silk." In a metaphor, the comparison is direct, such as "Her hair is silk."

What Is the Difference Between a Simile and Metaphor?

Similes and metaphors are both used to make comparisons between two different objects, but one does this directly (metaphor) while the other does this indirectly (simile). For example, let's take the words "voice" and "thunder". To describe someone whose voice booms out and sends shivers down your spine, you might write:

"His voice was like thunder echoing through my very being."

That's a simile because you're saying his voice was like thunder. It resembles some of the qualities of thunder, but it's not exactly the same. If you wrote this instead:

"His voice was thunder echoing through my very being."

That's a metaphor. In this case, you're not saying his voice was like thunder, you're saying it IS thunder. You're attributing the characteristics of thunder to the person's voice directly, rather than simply saying it has some of those characteristics. Here's another example to make it perfectly clear:

"In the thick unyielding mud his shoes were like anti-gravity boots, making progress slow and frustrating."

I'm sure by now you can tell that's a simile, because of the phrase "like anti-gravity boots". To turn it into a metaphor, simply take out the word like:

"In the thick unyielding mud his shoes were anti-gravity boots, making progress slow and frustrating."

Examples in Poetry and Prose

Examples of simile and metaphor usage can be found in the writings of all the great authors. Every now and then, you come across one that's so unique and so original that it makes you wonder how on earth the author in question ever thought it up. Here's an example from Dickens' Bleak House, in which the rodent-like Mr. Vohles refuses an invitation to dine with John Jarndyce:

"My digestion is much impaired, and I am but a poor knife and fork at any time."

In the novel Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck describes Curley when he picks a fight with Lennie using the following simile:

"Curley was flopping like a fish on a line."

David Mitchell's novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet is bursting with figurative language, such as this line spoken by Sister Umegae to the pregnant Orito:

"A Gift in your womb is like a warm stone in your pocket."

And this example, the final line of chapter 4 when Jacob is distracted by a man whose gaze he can't evade:

"The silent observer twists his head, like a hunting dog listening to the sound of its prey."

Hungry like the wolf?

Hungry like the wolf?

Examples in Song Lyrics

You'll find similes and metaphors in hundreds—if not millions—of songs. Ever since mankind began turning ideas into music and lyrics, similes and metaphors have provided invaluable devices to get their message across. Here's an example using similes in an early 20th-century folksong collected by Maud Karpeles at Dunville in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland:

"She’s like the swallow that flies so high
She’s like the river that never runs dry,
She’s like the sunshine on the lee shore.
I love my love and love is no more."

And here's a more recent example from the Duran Duran song with the same title:

"Hungry like the wolf."

Or, depending on your musical tastes, you might be more familiar with this metaphor from a well-known musical:

"Life is a cabaret, old chum."

To turn this last example into a simile, you'd simply state that life is like a cabaret. Neil Young's song Heart of Gold includes the following metaphor:

"I've been a miner
For a heart of gold."

One of Bob Dylan's most famous songs includes the metaphor "The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind."

The band Everything But The Girl use this simile in their song Troubled Mind:

"You're like a goods train running through my life."

And Leonard Cohen's song Hallelujah includes the line:

"There's a blaze of light in every word."

Writing Similes and Metaphors

Examples of this kind of figurative language can be found in almost any book you pick up. But how can you put them to use to improve your own writing? Start by writing down what you want to say in the simplest possible way. For example, after being out in sub-zero temperatures, I might say my feet were cold. So I'd write that down as follows:

"My feet were cold."

Not very exciting, is it? Now I need to spice it up with a metaphor or two:

"My feet were blocks of ice, rivers of frozen pain winding their way up through frigid limbs."

I think that gets across how cold I was and also the effect the chill has on one's body. Suppose I sat by the fire to warm myself up. I might say:

"I sat by the fire to try to get warm."

Again, pretty uninspired. I might say instead:

"The heat from the roaring fire was a warm welcome, melting my disposition like an ice cream on a sultry summer afternoon."

The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learned from others; it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an eye for resemblance

— Aristotle's "De Poetica," 322 B.C.

And when spring arrives, the ice-covered lake thaws and becomes populated with an assortment of creatures including ducks and swans. Swans, in particular, seem to be able to glide across the surface effortlessly, but I was struck one day by their rather unusual shape when seen from a certain distance:

"A sea of swans drift quizzically across the water, like white question marks waiting to find their place at the end of a posing sentence."

Part of the fun in using similes and metaphors is in trying to come up with something unique, something original, something that makes your readers sit up and take notice. Look around your environment to find items that would make good comparisons, and then spend some time crafting the best figures of speech you can.

If that's too much like hard work, why not try rewriting some more familiar similes and metaphors yourself? Here are some ideas to help you get started, followed by some quickly penned examples to show what can be achieved with just a little thought:

  • As useful as a chocolate teapot
  • As proud as a peacock
  • Like water off a duck's back
  • Not the sharpest tool in the box
  • A giant among men
  • He kicked the bucket
  • Rolling in dough
  • Raining cats and dogs
  • She swims like a fish
  • He's as sharp as a tack
  • Her words cut like a knife

And here are some examples:

  • As useful as a dead man's watch
  • As pointless as a tree in a car park
  • Hope is the optimist's waiting room

Have fun making up your own similes and metaphors and be sure to try and include them in everything you write.

Swanning around...

Swanning around...

Tell which of these expressions is a simile and which is a metaphor:

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. He's as hard to get rid of as last week's meatloaf.
    • Simile
    • Metaphor
  2. He's an idiot looking for a village.
    • Simile
    • Metaphor
  3. He's one brick short of a load.
    • Simile
    • Metaphor
  4. Thoughts whirled pointlessly round in his head like underpants in a tumble dryer.
    • Simile
    • Metaphor
  5. She's as shapely as a flatscreen television.
    • Simile
    • Metaphor
  6. A hospital bed is a parked taxi with the meter running. - Groucho Marx
    • Simile
    • Metaphor

Answer Key

  1. Simile
  2. Metaphor
  3. Metaphor
  4. Simile
  5. Simile
  6. Metaphor

Questions & Answers

Question: How would you use the word "messy" as a simile?

Answer: You could say "as messy as a baby eating its first solid meal".

Question: How do you use the word "disable" in a sentence as a simile?

Answer: A simile is not a word. It is a comparison made using "like" or "as" to say one thing resembles another in some way. So, she was as pretty as a picture. He ate like a pig. I suppose you could say as disabled as a burnt-out car, or as disabled as a caterpillar with no legs.

Question: How would you use the word "creativity" in a sentence as a simile?

Answer: I wouldn't. Although I might use the word "creative", as in "his excuse was about as creative as one given by a four-year-old caught with their hand in the cookie jar".

Question: How would I use the word echo as a simile?

Answer: You could say: "her voice bounced around inside his head like an echo from the past".

Question: How would you use the word 'mess' as a metaphor?

Answer: You could say: His mind is a mess, or his life is a mess.

Question: How would you use the word "thaw" in a sentence as a metaphor?

Answer: Scrooge's anger and bitterness finally melted away, and people watched the thaw happen before their very eyes.

Question: How can I use the word "spicy" as a simile?

Answer: "As spicy as a pepper-coated slice of salami that's been soaked in curry paste."

Question: How would you write a metaphor to say that someone was happy?

Answer: Similes are comparisons made with "as" and "like". In a simile, you might say someone was as happy as a pig in muck. In a metaphor, you omit the words "as" and "like", so you might say someone was over the moon. Or they were tickled pink.

Question: How do you use simile in creative writing?

Answer: A simile is a figure of speech used to make a comparison using the words like or as. You'd use it in creative writing to make a description more powerful. Instead of saying someone is solidly built, you could say they are as strong as an ox. Instead of saying someone is cowardly, you could say they ran away like a dog with its tail between its legs. By comparing the person to something else, you add emphasis to what they're doing or how they're acting.

Question: How could I use "thaw" as a metaphor?

Answer: Here's one idea: our relationship had stalled and felt frozen. One meaningful kiss proved to be the thaw.

Comments

Anne on April 28, 2020:

Example from my graphic novel:

"I'm Yarite, and this is my story."

"They always say that 'Lucien scares them' and that 'he wants to crush us all', but I know that he's goodhearted. In fact, it's a heart of pure sugar!"

"People. Despite Lucien being a giant, we're okay. Species does not interfere with amount of kindness. I should know, because I knew him as a kid. He doesn't have a cold heart."

"Here at Willowbrook Highschool, you're appreciated no matter if you're like a crazed spider or what not!"

Aaron on February 13, 2020:

Nice thnx...luv frm IND

Mark on March 01, 2017:

Great hub to learn the difference between simile and metaphor. Wish I had you as a poetry teacher back in the day.

u on July 09, 2015:

thanks

JohnMello (author) from England on March 25, 2015:

Glad you enjoyed it ZeldaMes :-)

Zelda Mes from South Africa on March 25, 2015:

Very interesting

JohnMello (author) from England on December 12, 2014:

You're welcome Dave :)

David Edward Lynch from Port Elizabeth, South Africa on December 12, 2014:

I did quite well in the quiz - thanks for sharing this helpful information about similes and metaphors.

JohnMello (author) from England on December 12, 2014:

Thanks sweetpikez. Glad you liked it!

Pinky de Garcia on December 11, 2014:

Dear John,

This is an educational hub. The definition and examples for similes and metaphors are well written.

Thanks for sharing this.

Glad to read this,

Sweetpikez

JohnMello (author) from England on March 13, 2014:

Thanks theBAT... glad you enjoyed it :)

theBAT on March 12, 2014:

"...like a hunting dog listening to the sound of its prey." - this one good example of conveying an idea. Nice hub. I enjoyed reading this.

JohnMello (author) from England on January 09, 2013:

Thanks eddiecarrara. They should help make your words more palatable :)

Eddie Carrara from New Hampshire on January 09, 2013:

Thanks for the lesson John, I'll start using them in my writing, like lettuce in a salad, lol.

JohnMello (author) from England on January 08, 2013:

Thanks StayAwakeNow. Glad you enjoyed it and that it was of some help!

JohnMello (author) from England on January 08, 2013:

Thanks iguidenetwork. Looks like you've got it...

Giani Noyez from Belgium on January 08, 2013:

I really enjoyed reading this. English is not my native language and hubs like these improve my english very well. I won't use what I've learned here for writing hubs alone but I'm sure this could be helpful when I need to write articles for my English class also.

iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on January 08, 2013:

I'm enlightened by your hub about similes and metaphors, and good video as well. Exceptional examples... and my understanding of it is now as clear as a crystal. *wink*

Voted up and useful. :)

JohnMello (author) from England on December 05, 2012:

Thank you alifeofdesign!

Graham Gifford from New Hamphire on December 05, 2012:

Great hub. I particularly liked the video. Clearly understand why this was a Hub of the Day. Nice work.

JohnMello (author) from England on November 20, 2012:

Thanks frogyfish!

frogyfish from Central United States of America on November 19, 2012:

Your hub was an enjoyable and interesting refresher in simile and metaphor distinction. Very well described and exampled too. It is a delight to run across unique ones sometimes - others or maybe mine--if I get lucky. :-)

JohnMello (author) from England on November 14, 2012:

Thanks adrienne2... glad you liked it!

Fierce Manson from Atlanta on November 14, 2012:

Hi John, Great hub very informational in explaining the difference between the simile, and metaphor. I will have to add more flavor to my writing by using more metaphorsvor similes. Voted useful.

JohnMello (author) from England on November 12, 2012:

Thanks ChitrangadaSharan!

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on November 12, 2012:

Excellent hub with great examples. You made the use of 'simile' and 'metaphor',interesting and easy to understand. Very well presented. Thanks for sharing.

JohnMello (author) from England on November 11, 2012:

Thanks haikutwinkle!

haikutwinkle on November 11, 2012:

Another excellent hub and quiz!

"My box of chocolate for the afternoon with a lingering aftertaste..."

JohnMello (author) from England on November 11, 2012:

Thank you all for the praise and encouragement! It means a lot...

LupitaRonquillo on November 10, 2012:

Your hub of the day was well deserved!

CZCZCZ from Oregon on November 10, 2012:

Way to go on getting hub of the day honors. This was an interesting read with excellent suggestions for making our writing a richer experience for the readers.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on November 10, 2012:

I love your example of comparison within this of figurative language to herbs and spices flavoring up a dish. Great job!

By O'Reilly on November 10, 2012:

Awesome hub and useful. I scored 100% woo hoo!

Shasta Matova from USA on November 10, 2012:

Congratulations on HOTD. Great explanation of metaphors and similes., and a great reminder of how we can use them to enliven our writing. Voted up.

Jo Alexis-Hagues from Lincolnshire, U.K on November 10, 2012:

Congratulations, on Hub of the day, and very well deserved to. informative and very well presented.

mecheshier on November 10, 2012:

Fabulous Hub. I love metaphors, similes, figures of speech, slang words and the history of all above. I have a 500+page book on slang words and each words history and usage. It is a great book especially when I am looking for nicknames for people. :-) Thank you for the share!

Ms. Immortal from NJ on November 10, 2012:

Congrats on Hub of the day. Great presentation and fun quiz. Voted up!

Audrey Howitt from California on November 10, 2012:

What a great hub! And congrats on HOTD!

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on November 10, 2012:

Awesome! I, too, wrote a hub about the difference between a simile and metaphor. I think you may have explained it better! This is great--very clear. I love your examples. I especially like the one you made up about the swans. Way to go! Congrats on HOTD!

SilverGenes on November 10, 2012:

Congratulations on Hub of the Day! Very nice presentation on how to use them without being cliché.

Pamela Dapples from Just Arizona Now on November 10, 2012:

Congratulations on having this chosen for Hub of the Day. This was so enjoyable to read. I really like your top photo, too. It drew me in -- along with the title.

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on November 10, 2012:

Congratulations JohnMello! You won the HOTD award! Yep, yep, yep!!!

Night Magic from Canada on November 10, 2012:

It's funny how we soon forget after we're out of school for quite a few years. Good Hub

Prasanna Marlin from Sri lanka on November 10, 2012:

Great discussion, Interesting hub and Congrats on your Hub of the Day award.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 10, 2012:

A well deserved Hub of the Day. Congratulations! I'll try and use more similes and metaphors in my writing to spice it up a bit like cinnamon and sugar on warm buttered toast. Up votes and sharing!

Liz Davis from Hudson, FL on November 10, 2012:

Great discussion. Coming up with original similes and metaphors definitely helps to make a piece more interesting. On the other hand, an old cliché can make it dull and boring. You've provided some great examples!

JohnMello (author) from England on November 10, 2012:

Thanks AhalitaMoonfire, Thelma Alberts, RTalloni, stillwaters707, and StephanieBCrosby. I'm very pleased, too!

Stephanie Bradberry from New Jersey on November 10, 2012:

I always love a good simile and/or metaphor. Great coverage of the subject matter. Congratulations on your Hub of the Day!

stillwaters707 from Texas on November 10, 2012:

I never really considered the difference between the two, but now, it's crystal clear. I just used a metaphor! Thanks for the writing tips and congrats on HOTD.

RTalloni on November 10, 2012:

Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for an interesting and helpful post on similes and metaphors, and a neat read. Analogously speaking, this piece inspires parallel thinking, however, I think I'd better have my coffee before trying to get too proportional.

Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on November 10, 2012:

Wow! I got 100% for the quiz. Congratulations! This is a very useful hub and very informative, too. Now it´s clearer to me how to use similes and metaphors. Thanks for sharing.

AhalitaMoonfire from Ohio on November 10, 2012:

Congrads on being the HUB of the day, and lot of great and useful information. I defently be looking into adding more of this into my writing when I get over my writers block.

This also put a clearer understanding for Metaphors for me, since when in high school and college, the English instructors always lost me on things like this.

JohnMello (author) from England on October 11, 2012:

Thanks JayeWisdom and alancaster149!

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on October 10, 2012:

How about: 'As upright as a chocolate soldier in a heatwave', or 'As dependable as a lump of lead in a furnace'?

The English language thrives on metaphors and similes, it's what makes the language 'flow'.

Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on October 10, 2012:

Interesting hub and fun quiz. I love the "flavor" added to fiction through the use of similes and metaphors. Voted Up++

Jaye

JohnMello (author) from England on October 10, 2012:

Thanks ComfortB!

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on October 10, 2012:

Taking the quiz at the end of your hub was as easy as ABC. It was a breeze!

Nice hub with great examples. Voted up and interesting.