When ‘Like’ is Nothing Like a Simile

July 2, 2013

Cat at laptop, writing fiction

Mitten’s 2013 Camp NaNo effort


At the next stop sign we pass a junkyard. Rusted body parts, strewn all around the yard, lean up against the chain links like they’re begging for release.

Can you see that the use of like here isn’t a clichéd simile (like a flash, like a hurricane) or an average description (Rusted body parts are strewn  around the yard)?

This post has to do with finding the subtext and using imagery to tell a stronger story.

The inanimate objects here, Rusted body parts  are given action in this like phrasing— strewn all around the yard, lean up against the chain links like they’re begging for release.

Three forms of action words are used around the like phrasing.

If you read the entire story, The Giant Rubber Gorilla,  this visual  also pertains to how the girl narrator is feeling.  She too feels trapped, and separated from the others in the car. She and the other two women also long for release on this weekend drive.


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Subtext about her state of mind and emotions are given via  this and other imagery in the short story.  

This is were the visual, physical, or visceral comes in and takes the place of average descriptions you might write. The description, using a like phrasing, shows the reader more than a common description, which are often written  just for description’s sake.

Descriptions that do the double duty of trying to get some storytelling in, go farther and show an unspoken moment within your work.

In this case, it shows that’s this character’s feeling trapped, feeling separate.

Run a search on every time you’ve used like phrasing in your work. Is it followed by a standard description? By a simile using like? Or not:

At the next stop sign we pass a junkyard. Rusted body parts are strewn around the yard.

Can you move it into a visual, physical, or visceral way of using imagery to tell a stronger story?


2 Responses to “When ‘Like’ is Nothing Like a Simile”

  1. kdefg Says:

    The example doesn’t work for me, because I associate “leaning against a fence” with leisure. It took me several readings to see “begging for release” as related to being fenced in or imprisoned. The mention of chain links also led me to think of something snagged on fence itself, which requires a different kind of release and less begging. I would suggest another verb besides “leaning”, perhaps describing the parts as being piled as though trying to climb the fence. (Is there a reason to say “like” instead of “as though”? I tend to use the latter more.)

  2. ejrunyon Says:

    HI there kdfg,
    I like your ‘This will Never be a Become a Book’ blog, it reflects your writing life so well.
    I’m glad you stopped by for a comment.
    Yes, some folks do use ‘as though’, and some use ‘like’ — both take a writer’s choice as to how close they want to get to the reader. Some get closer, some want that step away. Thanks for giving us a 2nd view. And thanks for reading!

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