Make More with Your Language

In a poem titled “The Sound of One Fork,” Minnie Bruce Pratt writes, “I am alone in a solitude that vibrates like the cicada in hot midmorning…” 

What does solitude sound like? Here, we get a sound in the mention of vibration like cicada on a hot midmorning. We know the hum of that sound, we can imagine the sensation of hearing it. How different the line would read without that simile. “I am alone in the solitude.” 

Henry Wordsworth used these words in a poem he published 200 years ago. Their meaning is impacting and timeless: I wandered lonely as a cloud/that floats on high o’er vales and hills… 

Simile and metaphor have a known role in poetry. In prose, their use is as welcome and important.

What is the difference between metaphor and simile?

With metaphor, something IS something. With simile, something is LIKE something. 

Life is LIKE a merry-go-round (simile), life IS a merry-go-round (metaphor).

I didn’t come home to a pile of mail scattered on the table LIKE an avalanche (Simile), I came home to an avalanche of mail (metaphor).

If I say “I’m drowning in work,” I’m using qualities associated with one thing—the urgency and helplessness of drowning—to convey meaning for another thing—the work I have to do.

I want to share with you about simile, the comparison of one thing to another, like in Wordsworth’s poem, where “lonely” and “cloud” are compared. 

Simile strengthens and clarifies meaning. The meaning is lifted to another level and often with valuable emotional resonance. Imagine if Wordsworth had instead written, “I wandered lonely…” without comparing that feeling to a single cloud floating over valleys and hills?

Similes are a comparison that uses like or as. Similes compare things that are somewhat similar to begin with.  

Similes need to make sense and fit the style of what you’re writing about. A good practice is to look within the nature of the thing or person whose meaning you want to expand. If you’re writing about a farmer, for instance, look for a farming analogy. If your story takes place in the South, find a fitting point of comparison. A simile strengthens by broadening meaning through association.

Try your hand at including simile in your writing. Explore. Experiment, Be willing to write a simile that isn’t quite “it”, then try again until you get one that works. Open your mind to the possibilities.

For the next week or two: Make a list of similes and metaphors you find while reading. You’ll become more aware of these devises and begin noticing how they’re used.

Take it further: Pair a word whose meaning you want to expand with a word that is pertinent to the action, character or setting. You may, for instance, want to pair the idea of a mother to a hummingbird hovering over a bed of flowers, sipping nectar from one flower and then another with precision and then darting away. The imagistic analogy can show more than a narrative description might.