HOME

Practice
















 
3. Metaphors are Similes on Steroids

A simile says that two things (objects, events situations) are similar. A metaphor says – on the literal/surface level – that two things are the same.

1. This therapy is like a pin in his wound. (simile)
2. This therapy is a pin in his wound. (metaphor)

On the literal level, a simile tends to be true and a metaphor tends to be false. For example, the therapy is not really a pin.

However, the metaphor is figurative, which is to say, its actual and intended meaning is different from its literal meaning, and the reader is supposed to know that. At the figurative level, the metaphor and simile say the same thing.

When a simile can be replaced with a metaphor, the metaphor has more power. Just compare these two possible titles:

1. Metaphors are like similes on steroids. (simile)
2. Metaphors are similes on steroids. (metaphor)

The metaphor has fewer words and is more direct, and I suspect it has some other magic ingredient helping it be more powerful. In any case, the power and directness are reasons to:

Consider Changing Your Simile to a Metaphor

Um, lots of times you keep the simile. The point is just to consider the metaphor. And, don't back away from a metaphor just because it isn't true.

Why wouldn't you change a simile to a metaphor? First, a basic rule for any figurative expression is that the reader won't take it literally. So when a reader might take the metaphor literally, it becomes a bad choice.

1. Meanwhile, Crazy Nate was typing away like he was playing a video game. (Teen Inc, page 208)
2. Meanwhile, Crazy Nate was typing away; he was playing a video game.

The metaphor (#2) isn't working at all. Grammatically, there was no straightforward rewrite, which is a second reason to use a simile. But the main problem is that #2 would be taken literally, at least for a while until the reader perhaps sorted out the confusion.

Turtles All the Way Down begins

At the time I first realized I might be fictional.... But I was beginning to learn that your life is a story told about you, not one that you tell.

Unfortunately for this potentially profound metaphor, the main character is fictional, and it was a story told about her. So I confusedly read this start as some artistic meta-reference. I suspect it needs a rewrite, but using a simile would have given me a good clue about the proper direction.

I suspect a third factor for avoiding a metaphor is when you don't want the metaphorical meaning of a word. (The metaphorical meaning of word is it's distinctive features; for example, the metaphorical meaning of gorilla is being strong.)

1. Bill is like a gorilla -- he has thick black hair over all of his body. (simile, okay)

2. Bill is a gorilla – he has thick black hair over all of his body. (metaphor, not as good)

I suspect your judgment will be fine on the issue of simile versus metaphor, as long as you aren't afraid of the metaphor just for being false on the literal level.