The simile and metaphor are powerful tools in the right hands. An elegant comparison can be used to bring a description to life and enhance the reader’s experience. I did an entire post on similes and metaphors over a year ago and I encourage you to explore those two literary devices in much more detail. It is consistently one of my top viewed articles.
To quickly review, the simile is a comparison between two unrelated objects generally using “like” or “as”:
The wind shrieked like an injured stoat.
The metaphor is also a comparison but does so directly without using “like” or “as”. In a metaphor the object is “transformed” into something else:
The wind was a derailed ghost train tumbling and piling up around him in a great cacophony.
In the examples above, the simile describes the wind as being like a stoat but in the metaphor, the wind becomes a ghost train. As I said, these two tools can be powerful if put into the right hands. A hammer used by a master carpenter can help create wonderful works of craft, but in the hands of a madman it becomes a tool of wanton destruction, can bring about brutal injuries or might even serve as a murder weapon. The literary comparison can also be finely crafted when done with care, experience and imagination or slaughtered by careless, heavy (despite being well-intentioned) hands.
The Washington Post runs a humor contest every Sunday called “The Style Invitational.” Each week a new challenge is posed and the reported results are usually very clever and funny. On week 310 readers were asked “to come up with lame analogies.”
Here are a few examples from that particular Invitational:
She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up. (Susan Reese, Arlington)
It came down the stairs looking very much like something no one had ever seen before. (Marian Carlsson, Lexington, Va.)
Her pants fit her like a glove, well, maybe more like a mitten, actually. (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)
It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall. (Brian Broadus, Charlottesville)
She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs. (Jonathan Paul, Garrett Park)
Her eyes were shining like two marbles that someone dropped in mucus and then held up to catch the light. (Barbara Collier, Garrett Park)
If you want to read more The Post has them archived on the web.
I think we learn from our mistakes. Knowing the difference between good and bad is an important lesson. Writing poorly to appreciate writing well might be a bizarre approach to improve your writing or maybe it’s just a cheap way of getting you to submit some material capable of eliciting a good laugh. Either way I thought it would be fun to see what sort of lame similes and metaphors you can come up with. Submit your efforts in the comments section.
Here are half a dozen intentionally bad similes that I just made up:
The seafood counter at the grocery store smelled fishy like microwave popcorn sprinkled with Old Bay Seasoning intended to make it taste like crab.
While stomping out the burning paper bag on his front stoop, the dog poop oozed up around the soles of his shoes like the partially melted chocolate of a S’more.
She moved with the grace of one of those apes covered in fur except on their pink, really abused-looking butts.
He stood motionless as if unable to move.
She was gripped in the throes of an unnamable emotion, as unnamable as those two little vertical lines that come down from your nose to the top of your lip.
Tears dripped down her cheeks like milk from the nose of a person on the receiving end of an ill-timed joke.
Anyway you get the idea. I am reminded of an old Woody Allen joke that goes like this: “Two women were siting in a restaurant and the first one says, ‘The food here is terrible.’ And the second woman says, ‘Yes, and such small portions too.'” Sometimes you just can’t get enough of a really bad thing. I’m counting on some magnificently awful submissions from all of you (Steve, this has your name written all over it!). Submit as many as you like. The more the merrier. If you are not feeling enough love to prompt you into tickling the keyboard, I am offering a prize as an incentive. The “best” bad analogy gets a free pdf copy of An Elementary English Grammar and Exercise Book by Osborne William Tancock, Clarendon Press, Oxford, published in 1878. Seriously. I’ll email the pdf.
So there you have it. You have my permission to be bad; as bad as Bad, Bad Leroy Brown being badder than old King Kong in a 1973 pop song that is now completely and interminably stuck in my head, playing as an endlessly looping warble, driving me to the point of wanting to claw my eyes out with a rusty garden tool…