Friday, October 16, 2009

Fiction Friday: Similes, Metaphors and Personification

This week in the fiction class that I'm taking, we talked about three rhetorical devices: similies, metaphors and personification. If you're not sure what they are, follow the links for definitions.

Then we did a writing exercise. For each of the three devices, we selected one of the cliches below and rewrote it. Our instruction was to generate at least 5 attempts for each device.

Fear seized me.
Her face fell.
Darkness fell.

The idea of doing this multiple times is that the first thing you come up with will generally be trite, but each successive attempt will be more original.

Here's what I came up with:

Fear performed a Heimlich maneuver on my rib cage.
Happiness slid from her face like a fried egg from a Teflon skillet.
Darkness stumbled across the landscape like a late stage alcoholic.

I was pretty happy with these, but the whole exercise got me to thinking about voice and point of view, and how they determine which metaphors, similes, etc. you can use.

Because, for example, "Fear performed a Heimlich maneuver on my rib cage" only works in first person. When you write "Fear performed a Heimlich maneuver on Suzy's rib cage," the narrator's voice becomes intrusive.

And for the happiness one, the narrator has to be a housewife or a chef, because if, for example, a cop, or a dentist, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company says something like this, it just doesn't work. (Unless he's the CEO of Farberware.)

Because it's not enough to come up with cool ways to describe things. You have to do it smoothly, in a way that is so integrated with the rest of your prose that it doesn't stop the reader, making her wonder, "Who would say something like that?"

This Week's Challenge:

Try generating 5 similes, metaphors or personifications for the above cliches. Submit your favorite(s) and I'll try to guess the gender, approximate age and job of the character or narrator who would say it.


  1. What a great exercise - thank you for sharing this.

    Fear drew him in tightly, a corset enforcing the holding of his breath.
    Happiness was wiped away from his face like last night's stage make-up.
    Darkness dressed him in black and dictated the thickness of his eyeliner.

  2. Great exercise. This feels like a hand-foot-big toe yoga posture for me.

  3. first of all I have to disagree with you on the teflon one - I think it works for no matter who you say it about - why does it specifically have to be a cook or a housewife or even more linear someone that works for teflon? Let me see what I can come up with - I will comment again.

  4. I have a friend, a youg poet little known in our country -- his name is Wm Shakspeare, of Stratford, UK -- and he asked if he could take part in your little contest.

    I said sure, why not? So forgive him if he doesn't follow all the rules exactly. (He is eager to take part because he needs the publicity.)

    "Fear seized me."
    Like a night burglar who's scared of a bush because he thinks it's a cop. Or, as Will S. puts it: "The night thief doth fear each bush an officer." (Henry VI)

    "Her face fell."
    But it's fake sadness. Will S. again: "She counterfeits sad looks, makes mouths upon me when I turn my back." (A Midsummer Night's Dream.)

    "Darkness fell."
    Will again: Darkness fell, "sable night, mother of dread and fear." (Rape of Lucrece.)

    I know, they're not very good. But he's just a beginner.

  5. Excellent...I'm learning so much today.

    Yes, the character does determine so much of what you can and can not say...great point!

    I just finished my first chapter and reading it over, I was thinking this is so simple and not intellectual, there's no darkness, I never imagined writing a book like this and yet there I was or here I am writing a book like this...oh well.

  6. Yes, a very good exercise! I love the egg-on-teflon. That was really good!

  7. Suddenly I have a hugic craving for fried eggs.

  8. I am so not a creative writer, but I love reading what your other readers come up with. It does get me thinking.

  9. The fist of fear gripped him, and rendered him motionless.

    Sadness shook the smile from his face like an Emote-a-Sketch. (sucks, but I like Etch-a-Sketches).

    Darkness crept down the city streets, and conquered the night.

  10. Fear seized me like a cat and shook me until I finally stopped struggling and hung there, cold and limp.

    Her face fell as flat as the first cake - and the first joke - she ever made.

    Darkness fell like a guillotine's blade outside his cell block window.

    (Oooh. Cheesy.)

  11. fear was on me me tighter than a little boys jockstrap.

    picking up her face was harder than lifting gold bricks.

    darkness was hardly sneaky in the way it stole the light.

    I did these this morning with no coffee!

  12. It was simple fear that betrayed him as his feet felt the planks below him disappear to leave him dangling.

    From inside Father’s car, she could see her reflection on the glass, and watched her face fall down through the car, with each stream of rain on the outside of the window carrying some of her to be left on the cold wet street behind them.

    Out of his own mouth he coughed out the darkness of a broken life as it fell onto the porcelain, splattering a contrast of red and white ink blots. His head smashed and the light fell away like a lifetime of mistakes. His last image was the Reaper injecting fear into his throat so he could never breathe again.

    Her face fell like a jack-o-lantern decaying on speed when she saw Jonathan’s new young wife.

    Fear seized me like being thrown from a roller coaster on my first ride.

    Darkness fell over Cheryl’s face like a coal mine collapsing when she realized I had stolen every dime she had.

  13. Your class sounds really intersting. Hope you like it.

  14. Fear seized me like the frogs tongue flying out and taking grasshoppers from the near by monkey grass.

    Her face fell upon her hands as the curtain falling sending it watery tears across the mirror .

    Darkness fell upon the girls naked body before he could take one last look.

    I late, and only five minutes left, but it will be interesting to hear your take on these...what a fun exercise!

    You also have me researching flash fiction now, and what fun I am having with that one!


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