Similes: Walking That Tightrope Between Profound and Cheesy

I recently came upon a book written in 1925 entitled, “Similes and Their Use” by Grenville Kleiser, who was an instructor at Yale Divinity School, and the author of several books including, “Training for Authorship” and “Great Speeches and How to Make Them.” In this book on similes, Mr. Kleiser has gathered a large number from prose, poetry and the Bible to illustrate the power of what many consider “a purely poetic accessory” (Kleiser 3).

Perusing this book helped me to realize that similes can be subtle and powerful or obvious and worn-out.  Below I have included a few examples for your pleasure and edification. Just as a reminder, my online dictionary defines a simile as “a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid.”

The goal with a simile is to not make it cheesy or a cliché. This is not always that easy. A few in this category would include:

“He leaped over the wall like a tiger, and fled.”

“The village awakened from a sleep almost as deep as that of death.”

“Their throats were as dry as summer dust.”

Here are a few that I thought were noteworthy or at least colorful:

“A gunshot rang out like an ominous voice.”

“Like a buzzard’s nest, their home hung over the village on the unfriendly sides of the bleak slope.”

“The young leafage shimmered like a veil of golden gauze.”

“She sat mute and motionless as the summer night.”

“The chill grand piano was like a sober and polished sarcophagus.”

You can see that it is difficult to honor the tenet not to be cheesy or cliché. It is a struggle to come up with truly fresh comparisons. However, when you do actually come up with one that is strong, then it can be a “means of giving a vivid description or of expressing a truth” (3).

And here is one more that I especially liked: “There was a curious tension in the air, like the oppressive sense of heat before thunder.”

Choose your words carefully when writing similes. Recognize that writing is a process that takes time to hone and the judicious use of similes can enhance your prose.

Just as Shakespeare wrote:

“Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale/Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.”

Don’t “vex” your reader with “twice-told” similes, but rather challenge yourself to write fresh comparisons that delight your readers and make them recognize deeper meaning.

Not an easy task, but worthwhile.

As the Bible says: “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul and health to the bones. (Prov.16:24.)

Happy writing


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