As a student of writing I’m always looking for ways to grow and improve. Using original or clever similes and metaphors seems like a good way to make my writing distinctive and unique. My instructor cautioned that although similes and metaphors are the wonder of writing if they are overdone, they backfire. Okay, I’ll buy that. I’ll never use: Dead as a doornail, or Sharp as a tack, or Drunk as a skunk, or As high as a kite, or As flat as a pancake, ever again. I’m not sure I ever used them in the first place, but I’m often as forgetful as a goldfish. Oops.
Let’s take a look at how others have dealt with the challenge of creating original analogies. But first I want to show you some of the winners of The Washington Post’s Worst Analogies ever written in a High School Essay Contest. Remember these are high school students. American high school students.
- He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
- The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.
- McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty Bag filled with vegetable soup.
- From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and "Jeopardy" comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30.
- Bob was as perplexed as a hacker who means to access T:flw.quid55328.com\aaakk/ch@ung but gets T:\flw.quidaaakk/ch@ung by mistake.
- Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
- Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie this guy would be buried in the credits as something like "Second Tall Man."
- Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
- The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.
- His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
With brilliant kids like these it’s hard to imagine that the American education system has fallen so far behind the rest of the developed world. Especially with lines like…a Hefty Bag filled with vegetable soup.
Let’s look at some real authors. Remember all of those choice expressions Bogie used to mutter in his movies. Well a lot of those great lines were written by Raymond Chandler way back in 1939. Here are some of his better analogies from The Big Sleep:
- A few locks of dry white hair clung to his scalp, like wild flowers fighting for life on a bare rock.
- The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work showgirl uses her last good pair of stockings.
- I lit the cigarette and blew a lungful at him and he sniffed at it like a terrier at a rathole.
- I had my hat tilted forward over my eyes to keep the setting sun out, and was leaning back against the seat feeling older than Mount Rainier.
- I felt old and tired and gritty, as if I’d been wrestling in a gravel pit.
- The old man licked his lips watching me, over and over again, drawing one lip slowly across the other with a funereal absorption, like an undertaker dry-washing his hands.
When Robert B. Parker wrote Perchance to Dream his sequel to The Big Sleep in 1991 he continued in Chandler’s tradition.
- In front of the windows was a desk that could have been a basketball court for midgets.
- He sounded like a guy that recited bad poems on the radio.
- The younger one’s sicker than a week-old oyster.
- She looked blank. She also looked pained and bored and tighter than a Methodist deacon.
- The gate guard smiled as politely as a tax collector, but not as warmly.
- My head felt like the inside of a snare drum.
- It was no more noticeable than a crocodile in a bathtub.
- His grin had all the warmth of a pawnbroker examining your mother’s diamond.
I’m pretty sure I know the guy that Parker was describing as - He sounded like a guy that recited bad poems on the radio. You probably know him too. He lives just down the street.
Just when I thought the catchy simile was dead I discoved Eoin Colfer and his two delightful books, Plugged and Screwed. This Irish author knows how to draw an analogy. How about:
- You’re like a boil on a supermodel’s ass.
- Mike’s boys lean inward like tall flowers attracted to the sun.
- Zeb could get the Dalai Lama to shoot dolphins.
- He goes at everything with the enthusiasm of a five-year old wired on Skittles.
- Fortz is living proof that evolution goes both ways.
- Krieger is not pretty to look at even from behind.
- What you eventually realize is, that when people blink they are mostly just blinking, not spelling out some kind of code, or when they shift away from you in bed, it ain’t because they don’t love you anymore, it’s because you have sharp elbows.
Like a boil on a supermodel’s ass. It doesn’t get any better than that, but let’s look at a few more. I don’t know where these came from, but Michael Kerr collected these on his web site, Humor at Work.
- Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
- She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.
- She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
- The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.
- Even in his last years, Grandpappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.
- Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.
- The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
- The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
- The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
- It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.
- He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.
- Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.
And we are told to never mix metaphors. My old boss at Intel used to mix his metaphors. English was his second language, so we might forgive him for telling me to “grab the ball by the horns.” Jim Carlton (whoever he is) collected these mixed metaphors on his website.
- We could stand here and talk until the cows turn blue.
- He was watching me like I was a hawk.
- I’ll get it by hook or ladder.
- He’s a wolf in cheap clothing.
- They’re diabolically opposed.
- He received a decease and desist order.
- I wouldn’t eat that with a ten-foot pole.
- Take a flying hike.
- He’s not the one with his ass in a noose.
- I can read him like the back of my book.
- From now on, I’m watching everything you do with a fine-tuned comb.
- These hemorrhoids are a real pain in the neck.
- It’s time to grab the bull by the tail and look him in the eye.
- I wouldn’t be caught dead there with a ten-foot pole.
- I hope he gets his curve ball straightened out.
- It’s time to step up to the plate and lay your cards on the table.
- It sticks out like a sore throat.
- People are dying like hotcakes.
- You can’t go in there cold turkey with egg on your face.
- We have to get all our ducks on the same page.
- The fan is gonna hit the roof.
- She’s suffering from a detached rectum.
Ouch, that detached rectum must hurt. Okay, I’ve got the picture but I’m as lost as a nun on a honeymoon when it comes to creating original and humorous similes and metaphors. I’d write more now but I’m as tired as a one arm paper hanger from burning the midnight oil from both ends. But I do know a guy that I can’t wait to describe as “a boil on a supermodel’s ass.”