I don’t use metaphors or similes when I write fiction. I’ve been aware of this for a couple of years, and so made a resolution to incorporate more metaphors and similes into my writing, especially my fiction writing. But I have had little success.
Now I know why.
When I insert a metaphor or simile into narration, it reminds readers that an author is writing what they are reading. A metaphor or simile draws readers away from the story line to consider a comparison. A metaphor or simile interrupts the flow of writing and takes readers out of the story to consider the meaning of or the aptness of the figure of speech.
And I don’t want that.What I want, as an author, is for my readers to become “one” with my story, to find my story so real, so compelling, that they “live” in the story, unaware of the real world around them. Metaphors and similes force the reader to leave the story—momentarily, true—and enter the real world to think about the figure of speech. The flow is broken.
Two exceptions exist. One is that it is okay to include a metaphor or simile in either the spoken words of a character or in his or her thoughts. Once your smile to me was wine, a character could think as she looks across the table to her long-time husband. Or a mother beset with children’s demands, a ringing phone, and a dog’s whine could say, “My life is like a soap opera.” In these situations—thinking and speaking—metaphors and similes still interrupt the flow of the story if the reader needs to think about the comparisons. But they can seem organic if a character uses them.
Another exception is when the figure of speech is a cliché that is readily understood and needs no consideration. When a character says, “That water is as cold as ice,” or when another character thinks, I smell a rat, we needn’t think about the comparison because we have heard it many times before and readily understand it.
Of course some writers do use metaphors and similes successfully, especially when a story is told in the first person. If you have read any of Raymond Chandler’s stories about his famous detective, Philip Marlowe, you have encountered hundreds of figures of speech because the character of Marlow thinks in similes and metaphors. Those stories are told in first person point of view, so the figures of speech form part of the personality of the narrator.
How about you? Do you use similes and metaphors? Do you agree with me that these figures of speech interrupt the flow of narration?