One of the most effective ways to convey passion and aid your readers’ understanding of your message is to paint a word picture using comparative figures of speech.
In writing, the use of comparative figures of speech serves a couple of purposes. On one hand, comparison is a means of explaining complex ideas. When a writer connects unfamiliar concepts to commonplace objects or ideas, it simplifies the message and makes for effective communication. When you use comparison in your writing, you can help your readers link a novel or unusual idea to their own experience, which makes your idea relevant and keeps them invested in your message.
Comparative figures of speech can also add complexity to your writing and make your readers think. It piques their interest and causes them to pay closer attention to the subject matter.
There are three types of comparison in writing: simile, metaphor, and analogy.
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two things using connective words such as like, than, as, or a verb such as “resembles.”
Writing a novel is like running a marathon.
Similes are so common, you may not even notice them when they’re used, but you certainly understand the meaning:
- dry as a bone
- good as gold
- blind as a bat
- busy as a bee
- hard as nails
- wise as an owl
For the record, I do NOT recommend using these particular similes in your own writing! These phrases are clichés: expressions that were fresh and creative once, but have now been used so often they’re prosaic and even irritating. Using clichés is lazy writing, so invest your time and engage your brain to write creative and innovative similes.
Here’s an example from George Orwell’s essay, “A Hanging:”
They crowded very close about him, with their hands always on him in a careful, caressing grip, as though all the while feeling him to make sure he was there. It was like men handling a fish which is still alive and may jump back into the water.
Unlike a simile, a metaphor compares two unlike things by stating that one thing is the other thing.
The sky is the limit.
A metaphor compares two dissimilar things and finds a point in common. It might sound like you are stating a fact, but you have to think it through for it to make sense. Where a simile says something is like something else, a metaphor says that something is something else.
For example, if you say, “You are the wind beneath my wings,” you’re not saying that person is literally wind (or that you have wings). Rather, you are referring to the support you receive from that person. What do these metaphors communicate?
- Fear is a beast that feeds on ignorance.
- My sister’s boyfriend is a zero.
- Dignity and strength are her armor.
An analogy explains an unfamiliar or unknown concept or thing by comparing it to something that is known and familiar.
An atom’s structure is like a solar system: The nucleus is the sun and electrons are planets that revolve around it.
Comparing the structure of an atom to a solar system helps us visualize and understand atomic structure. (Notice the analogy uses a simile and a metaphor.)
An analogy also shows how two different things are similar. It’s really more than a figure of speech: it’s a logical explanatory statement or argument. Similes and metaphors are figures of speech that can be used to draw an analogy, which makes an analogy more extensive and elaborate than either of them.
You may remember working with analogies on SAT, ACT, IQ, or Mensa tests.
Shard : Pottery :: (____) : Wood
If you’re writing about a complex or technical concept, an analogy can bring clarity to the subject matter, and it may include a metaphor and/or simile. Don’t get hung up on the technicalities of terminology, just know that if your subject matter warrants a comparison, use it!
When you use comparative figures of speech in your writing, you engage the reader’s imagination and make your writing more interesting. Always respect your readers: they are intelligent, thinking people. Allow them to partner with you and invest their own brain power to interpret and understand your message.
Nancy Erickson, AKA The Book Professor, was one of the distinguished speakers at the 2017 BookBaby Independent Authors Conference!
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