The Scourge of Similes

Much like my rant on adjectives, similes are another major “writerly” Pet Peeve of mine. Good writers can get away with using them. Books get published all the time with terrible, terrible uses of similes. I even read a Stephen King novel once that had similes for DAYS (granted, it was probably ghost written and maybe this was an intentional stylistic choice, who knows), BUT I would argue that great writers learn how to work without them and/or use them in moderation.

What is a simile? It is as simple as using one thing to describe another: Her bosom heaved heavily like a whale coming up for air after a long and lengthy dive into the depths of the ocean. Bosom = Whale. Done. There’s your comparison! Why do I hate this?

  1. It lacks creativity. Half the time you can take out the “like” AND the bald-faced comparison by rephrasing the sentence to make it sound as though you’re not spoon-feeding your reader an analogy. IE: Her bosom heaved, she was coming up for air after a deep dive.
  2. Similes assume the audience is kind of stupid. Believe me, they’re not. They’ll know by the context of the sentence that she wasn’t actually coming up from a literal dive, if you must needs use a simile.
  3. A simile is hardly ever necessary. You can describe the thing as the very thing it is and get away with conveying the message successfully: She took a deep breath and felt her chest rise and fall. < Why is that so terrible to so many writers? Must we always jump over the hurdles of not-so-fancy words to compose a simple sentence?

This came up as a post-worthy topic because I’m currently 1 of three 3 lovely ladies (emphasis on the “lovely”) editing a literary journal at my university and I finally sat myself down with a glass of wine to delve into reading some of the prose submissions. I’m not even going to touch the poetry right now. You can say I’ve made a bit of a career out of reading slush piles for free.

Slave labor, really.

Maybe someday I’ll actually get paid for it. Until then, there’s always cups upon cups of tea to keep me relaxed as I read the third simile in one paragraph because the author could not think of a better way to describe something than by, once again, comparing it to something else.

Have I used similes? Yes, I’m pretty sure I used the “whale” one in an essay in 6th grade. My parents were very impressed. But, I really feel this is something most writers should grow out of as you hone your writing and fine-tune it. Unless your pinnacle of success is dime-store novels. Again, people who write like this do get published, but I don’t think they’ll go down in the annals of history as the writers who changed the face of the writing world. Read the Great Writers. They do not do this and if they do, they’re an advanced version of this trope, a super-simile. Prove me wrong. Come at me, bro.