Well-placed comparisons are powerful tools that not only help your reader better understand what’s happening in your story but also evoke your reader’s emotions.
We’ve all learned about the two comparison tools our Language Arts teachers taught us:
Similes: figures of speech that compare two unlike things, usually using like or as. Here is an example of a simile from A Prophecy Forgotten:
Running with precision, [the unicorns] sounded almost as one, and their white coats made them look like ghosts in the fog.
Metaphors: figures of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something which it is not in order to suggest resemblance. Here is an example of a simile from my short story, “The White Rider.”
The Society made a huge mistake. By stripping me of my social security number and my bank accounts, they made me a phantom. According to the world, I don’t exist. This makes me extremely hard to catch.
Is my character really a phantom? No. He’s human. But “phantom” gives the reader a much better idea of how he operates.
This post will focus on two tips for using similes and metaphors that will help enrich our main impression.
Tip 1: Use comparisons that will enhance the mood you are trying to create. When we use comparisons, we are drawing a connection in our readers’ minds to something outside our story. If we are going to bother drawing a connection, we should make sure this connection aids in helping the scene’s main impression.
For example, in this scene from A Prophecy Forgotten, my characters are staring at some snowcapped mountains. You will see the comparison, a simile, in bold lettering. (I really hate using like or as. I’d rather be more subtle with my comparisons):
Finally, Davian’s unit reached the Enbed Mountain range, which marked the eastern border of Morvenia. The snowcapped mountains towered over them. They reminded Davian of jagged minotaur teeth, and that alone was enough to keep him from exploring them.
I could have said, “The snow on the mountains sparkled like a mound of sugar,” and it probably did. However, I don’t want my readers thinking sparkly thoughts about a candy store. I want them to feel uneasy.
Later in A Prophecy Forgotten, I used this metaphor:
Davian flung himself off Cassadern and stared at the gates that used to be beacons of hope and rest that welcomed him home from his many missions. Now they were shadows that concealed unsurpassable evil and treason.
I wanted to make sure the reader felt how Davian felt, and I wanted to show how Elysia had changed since the beginning of the story. Hence, a metaphor about the gates, especially since I made a big deal about them the first time I discussed the gates. (You can read that here in Chapter One of the sample chapters.)
Make sure to use comparisons that will affect the mood of the scene. This will help enhance your main impression and affect your readers’ emotions.
Tip 2: When using comparisons, remember that you are bound by your POV (point of view) Character’s knowledge. Your POV Character is the character whose voice you are writing. It’s the character “holding the camera” per se. In the above example with Davian, I used minotaur. Because I’m writing from Davian’s point of view, I must stick with comparisons to things which he is familiar with. I can’t compare the mountains to something from our world because Davian wouldn’t think those up.
This is especially important if you are writing fantasy, science fiction, or steampunk. In my steampunk short story, “The Survivor,” I ran into a problem. I needed to describe the wreckage of an airship (What is steampunk without blimps?), but no one in the Victorian Era had actually ever seen an airship. After reading a bit about the Hindenburg crash, I knew I needed to figure out how I might describe the ribbing of the balloon melting, but from the point of view of someone from the late 1800’s.
Angelica and the officer turned and watched what resembled a molten, round skeleton collapse to the ground with a metallic groan.
I figured that people in the Victorian Era were familiar with skeletons and rib cages.
Later in the story (during a flashback), Angelica is staring out of the airship in the middle of the night, looking down at London. I wanted the reader to see how the Thames River would have looked like black nothingness against the lights of the city, which is what I often see when I’m looking out an airplane window when flying over a river at night. However, no one in the 1800’s has ever been on a plane, and describing black nothingness would take way too long. I tried to use a comparison that a person from the 1800’s would be familiar with:
Below, the lights of London flickered. [Angelica] watched the Thames River wind through the city, like a black snake slithering among embers.
If you keep your comparisons bound within the world your POV character lives in, you will keep your reader engaged in your story’s setting, and you will make your writing feel believable. Making sure these same comparisons affect the main impression of your scene will keep the reader on the edge of his seat, waiting for the last page.
If you’re new to this blog, I’ve been writing a short series on description techniques. Here are my previous posts:
- The Writer’s Descriptive Techniques: #1—Create a Main Impression
- The Writer’s Descriptive Techniques: #2—Choose Details that Enhance Your Main Impression
- The Writer’s Descriptive Techniques: #3—Group Related Details Together
Hope you enjoy them!
Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.