What Are the Best Tips for Using Similes?

Debra Barnhart

A simile is a figure of speech that compares two things using the words "like," "as" or "than." A metaphor is another literary term in which the writer creates a relationship between two things, but a metaphor does not use the words "like," "as" or "than." Writers use both of these literary techniques to express a more tangible idea or feeling. The best tips for using similes include avoiding the use of clichés, creating a lively visual image in the reader’s mind and using them sparingly.

"His love is like a red rose," is an example of a simile.
"His love is like a red rose," is an example of a simile.

A successful simile clarifies the writer’s thoughts or emotions. It provides the reader with a new perspective or way of thinking not previously imagined. Often, the two objects being compared are very dissimilar, but they clarify the writer’s thoughts for his or her audience.

Similes and other writing techniques can add imagery to a work of literature.
Similes and other writing techniques can add imagery to a work of literature.

By creating a visual image in the mind’s eye, the writer can express an idea or emotion more vividly and grab the reader’s attention more readily. Poets and fiction writers often use similes as key devices in their writing, but similes can be used to spice up any form of writing. A writer doesn’t have to be a career novelist or poet to use them. The very best way to gain an understanding of this literary technique is to read a variety of literature, especially poetry and fiction. Good examples are less likely to be found in non-fiction, news reports and business writing.

To use similes successfully, writers should avoid using comparisons that are timeworn, common and used in everyday language. Some examples of clichéd sayings are “blind as a bat,” “busy as a bee” or “bigger than a house.” On the other hand, comparing a line of trucks on a congested highway to a parade of plodding circus elephants might be a more distinctive comparison. When it comes to creating an effective simile, the more specific the image, the more powerful the simile. For instance, a “red 1978 Chevrolet El Camino” is a more vivid image than the word “car” by itself.

It is possible to overdo the use of similes. Poets should especially be aware of this because it is easy to fall into the trap of using too many in a poem. Creating innovative analogies can be a heady experience for the writer, but a poem with too many of them can become dull and confusing. Writers of prose, which is any form of writing that does not use rhythm and poetic composition, should never mix two or more similes in one sentence for the same reason. It will confuse the reader and muddy the main idea of the sentence.

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