Similes and metaphors can effectively enhance a character’s emotion, personality trait, or even describe a precarious situation. Better yet, used when there’s a quiet moment when the character reveals a truth about themselves. But figurative language can also be a crutch to adding a description to a scene. Some metaphors are too good to pass up but ask yourself these questions when evaluating whether they are the right metaphor for the right time.

  • Does it slow the pacing of an exciting scene?
  • Does it pull the reader out of the story and cause them to start thinking of something else?
  • Is it necessary to communicate an important point, or is it just a clever comparison?
  • Are there too many similes or metaphors in a particular scene/chapter?

In the book, Sweep by Jonathan Auxier, the main character finds an old article (after snooping around the captain’s library) about an invention that would clean chimneys without having children make the dangerous climb through the flues. She found the article in a secret place. Here’s the exchange with her friend Toby . . .

“It’s none of your business where I found it.”

“The captain?” Toby gave her one of his looks as if she were a puzzle and he was one step away from putting her together. “What is my business, then?”

Nan shoved her hands in her pockets. “I want you to make one. For me.” She could feel her cheeks flushing.

This exchange works and it adds feeling and expression with just a few additional words.

In Hope in the Holler by Lisa Lewis Tyre, the main character discovers her deceased mother has been keeping secrets, probably for a good reason, but Wavy is determined to find out why. Here’s her reaction after finding some suspicious entries in her malicious aunt’s checkbook.

Mama gone, a new aunt, and a live dad? Since Mama had died, I’d been spinning faster than a merry-go-round pony. No wonder I was dizzy.

During this quiet moment, a self-deprecating metaphor communicates a truth about the character without coming right out and telling the reader a distant description like, I was confused.

In Battle Dragon’s City of Thieves by Alex London. When Silas’s mother mentions their father isn’t working, the author writes, Dad studied his hands at the table, like shame was flapping around him with invisible wings.

This kind of description works because the story is about dragons and it keeps the reader in that world.

I enjoy a good simile as much as the next person and they can add richness to your writing, but they should be used sparingly. Feel free to use them liberally in the first couple of drafts, but widdle them down as you revise so you only keep the diamonds in the rough.