Tag Archives: Editorials

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.

The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact And Fiction Into Film

For those who don’t know me, I hate research. Okay, I don’t HATE research, but I’m not a huge fan of it by rigid academic standards where they want you to show your work like in a math problem. I’m far too free of a sprit when it comes to what I read and consider research. “Reasearch-y” type books with stilted academic language drive me crazy. So, when I picked up The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction Into Film by Linda Seger from the shelf of my university library I gave it a mad side eye.

183949I’m not going to act like I know everything there is to know about writing. I don’t. I have a blog I barely update, 1 degree (and coming up on another in “creative writing” – whatever that means) and most of what I write remains either in the slush pile somewhere or between the pages of my journal. What does that mean? I read more and write more and read more and write more. Gotta get better in the meantime. By the “meantime” I mean the space in which I avoid writing my dissertation.

Seger’s book was written in the 1990s so it’s a tad outdated – and almost hilarious with how much Seger talks about a potential The Phantom of the Opera (based on the Lloyd-Webber musical) film adaptation. Oddly enough, most of her suggestions were addressed in the subsequent 2004 adaptation. She talks about Field of Dreams a LOT as an example of an adaptation that made some significant changes, but still was a successful translation to the silver screen. And I’m a firm believer in films still being true to the book and decent translations of the original text even if they veer here and there. Hey, I even have/had a podcast about it! But that’s MIA right now…

What I like most about Seger’s approach though is, she’s been in the trenches, she’s been consulting on scripts herself since 1981 so she’s not just theorizing what does and what does not work. You can kind of tell the authors of these “how-to” books who have never actually done the job themselves. They use “perhaps” and “quite possibly” a lot…

Nah, in my mind, something either does or does not work, and that’s the approach Seger takes. The first 4 chapters alone detail why specific genres defy the transition to the screen: Why Literature Resist Film, Why Theatre [sic] Resists Film, Why the True-life Story Resists Film etc. Brilliant. Start with what doesn’t work. ANNNND the whole book runs just over 200 pages. No need to wax on.

I think my other major take aways are her discussions on style and tone and the need to clearly establish these in the beginning of a film/screenplay. Film is a different medium than a novel, you don’t have as much time to rest on your laurels in exposition (I’m looking at you Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). And a change in style or tone mid-film can alienate an audience and throw them off. She didn’t use this as an example, but Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, for one. The book is set firmly in the realm of fantasy until midway through the main character, The Wizard Howl, steps into the real world. In Hayao Miyazaki’s film of the same name the entire story remains firmly rooted in fantasy and it’s wonderful. A shift in the middle would have made it feel like a different film entirely.

What I’m trying to say is, if you want a good, no-nonsense approach to adapting something into a screenplay, this is a good read OR if you’ve ever watched an adaptation of one of your favorite things and thought, “This… doesn’t work…” and can’t figure out why, Seger probably has the answer.