First, let's make sure you know the difference between simile and metaphor. A simile compares two unlike things (similes overrun your story like ants), while a metaphor takes the risk of claiming that one thing IS something else (similes are ants, overrunning your story.) It's easy for similes to fall into cliché: The sun was like a red rubber ball, darkness fell like a blanket, her eyes were like deep pools. Metaphor is more direct and less likely to be misused, although clumsy or inappropriate metaphors can destroy a story just as easily as a clichéd simile.

Try these little tricks to catch those soggy similes and mangled metaphors. First, ask yourself if the simile or metaphor is relevant to the theme of your story. If you're writing a suspense thriller, make sure you're not using light, humorous similes that don't match your tone. And don't mix your similes and metaphors. If you're saying that your villain tracks his victims with the dogged determination of a bloodhound (a cliché, incidentally), don't use the next paragraph to say that he hunts with the stealth of a jungle cat. Also, ask yourself if you've ever heard or read the simile or metaphor used before. Serial killers who track like bloodhounds or hunt like jungle cats aren't particularly original. Find something fresh.

Okay, you've browsed the Used Writing Glitch lot. Let's say you've taken home all these little clunkers and made them your own. You know all their quirks. You should be able to identify them as they show up in your early drafts. It's like I said--once you own them, they start popping up everywhere.

© 1999, Karen A. Hertzberg
Fiction Fix Newsletter

#3 - Adverbs Are Exquisitely Boring

Adverbs--those infamous -ly words--aren't always evil. Sometimes they can be used to great affect. Just use them sparingly. Better to use strong verbs in the first place than try to pump up the wimpy ones.

What looks better to you?

The cat ran swiftly  OR  The cat darted
She ate rapidly  OR  She gulped her food
I spoke loudly  OR I yelled

#4 - Avoid Clichés Like the Plague

It's so tempting to use clichés because they're familiar and easy. In fact, clichés became clichés only because they conveyed their sentiments so precisely that they fell into popular use. Avoid the temptation to use clichés, no matter how apropos they seem. Better to do the unexpected and invent something new. Clichés stand out like a sore thumb in your writing. Using them can be the kiss of death. See what I mean?

#5  Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy

There are many different types of redundancies, and they all mean basically the same thing--which is a little ironic, isn't it? Probably the most common problem for fiction writers is repeating information we have already given our readers while slightly changing the wording. To use one of those dreaded clichés, it's like beating a dead horse. Give your reader the benefit of the doubt and assume a certain level of intelligence. Is it really necessary to keep repeating yourself to make sure your readers "get" what you're trying to convey? If that's the case, maybe you weren't specific enough in the first place.

#6 - Similes Overrun Your Story
Like Ants at a Picnic

Similes and metaphors can be wonderful creative tools, particularly when they enhance the theme or "feel" of your story. After a while, though, they start to crowd your writing, and they tend to look amateurish.

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