When you view writing as a craft, you become increasingly aware of the tools you can use to practice your craft. Similes and metaphors are embedded in the way humans think. You may remember from school that similes are those comparisons that begin with the words like or as if, whereas metaphors express comparisons indirectly.
Similes, metaphors, or other poetic expressions help readers to see things in a new or a special way. Often this adds an emotive layer to a description, reconnecting us with a familiar experience. Sometimes such expressions simply delight us with their originality.
Joanne Hanson writes about her experience as a young mother during the 1964 “Good Friday Earthquake” in Anchorage. She frames this frightening experience between two similes. First she notices that “the dining room chandelier swayed like a child’s swing.” This foreshadows her subsequent dash to take her children to safety.
A paragraph later, Joanne describes the end of the quaking: “The house seemed to settle with great relief like an old woman lowering herself into a chair after a very long day.” Her choice of simile echoes her own relief after the major terror of the quake was over.
Similes abound in published memoirs, too. For example, consider Tuesdays with Morrie, a memoir that chronicles Mitch Albom’s visits to a beloved professor dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease of the neurological system. Albom includes this passage: “Nurses came to his house to work with Morrie’s withering legs, to keep the muscles active, bending them back and forth as if pumping water from a well.” (p. 11)
Still later, Albom refers to the way Morrie’s “socks-wrapped feet…rest stiffly on foam rubber cushions, unable to move, like a prisoner in leg irons” (p. 108). And, as Morrie’s disease progresses, Albom hints at the sad ending with this: “His body needed constant adjustment to stay comfortable. It was propped in the chair with white pillows, yellow foam, and blue towels. At a quick glance, it seemed as if Morrie were being packed for shipping.” (p. 119)
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