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
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