How to Craft Metaphor and Simile Like a Pro

Many of my readers enter through a post I did several months ago titled: Beautiful Sentences II – Metaphor and Simile. Considering its popularity, I thought I’d write another in the same vein and explore the nuts and bolts of taking comparisons from drab to fab. To begin, I want to make sure that everyone knows the difference between metaphor and simile.

A metaphor is a literary device that describes something by asserting that it IS an unrelated object.

A simile is a literary device that describes something by comparing it (usually with “like” or “as”) to an unrelated object.

Confused? Don’t be. Here are two examples:

Metaphor: After a hard night’s sleep, Sheila combed through the messy squirrel’s nest atop her head.

Simile: After a hard night’s sleep, Sheila combed through hair that looked like a messy squirrel’s nest.

The metaphor sentence calls Sheila’s hair “a messy squirrel’s nest,” while the simile sentence likens her hair to the squirrel’s nest. Now that we’ve got that straight, let’s move on.

I’m sure there are dozens of ways to craft similes and metaphors, but I’m going to share my favorites with you today, the ones I rely on most often. It doesn’t matter if you’re employing simile or metaphor. It’s really about unique comparisons, capiche?

  • Animate/Inanimate Comparisons – Try thinking about your animate objects as inanimate, or vice versa. In my YA novel, UNIVERSAL FORCES, I describe a prom night dust-up: “I held out my hands to stop him, two flimsy red capes against a charging bull. He tossed me over his horns—I’d seen him do it dozens of time to quaking freshman on the football field—skidding me across the floor, slinging my dress around my thighs.” (metaphor) Here, I’ve contrasted hands with red capes, animate against inanimate.
  • Human/Animal Comparisons – This one’s a no-brainer. English Lit 101 stuff. See my example above where I compare the main character’s prom date to a charging bull, carrying the metaphor further with “tossed me over his horns.”
  • Off the Wall Comparisons – Get zany and stretch your imagination waaay out there. Consider F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line from THE GREAT GATSBY: “The wind had blown off, leaving a loud bright night with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life.” (metaphor) Yeah, yeah, much better than mine. I know. Anyway, the image of earth bellows blowing frogs full of life is fresh and unexpected, even after eighty-seven years.
  • Universal Truth Comparison – Great for imparting emotions that everyone can relate to. Just for fun, I’m going to make one up: “Sheila opened the letter from John as if she were opening the January credit card statement after a hefty Christmas.” (simile) I didn’t have to tell you that Sheila dreaded opening the letter, did I?

***Friendly Service Reminder About Cliches***

Don’t write “He tore into the box like a kid at Christmas,” or “She smiled with a Cheshire Cat grin.” If it’s expected, don’t write it. Please. Otherwise Fitzgerald will turn over in his grave. (There you go, another cliche for your collection.)


How about you? Have any questions about crafting metaphor and simile? Have any favorites to share, yours or otherwise?


4 thoughts on “How to Craft Metaphor and Simile Like a Pro

    • I think as we head further into the twenty-first century, economical writing will become the norm. How we communicate now–text, email, blog–has paved the way for this evolution. Shame, really, because languid, descriptive prose like Fitzgerald’s is a joy to read and a devil to write. If those readers you mentioned only knew!

      Thanks for the comment.

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