Analogies. As a writer, you might love them or hate them. I love them. To me, analogies can make a description come to life. They convey a nuanced shade of emotion. They showcase the voice of our characters. But best of all, they don’t need to be fancy or complex.
Check out these similes that have popped out of my five-year-old daughter’s mouth.
“I’m as hot as the sun!”
“I’m cold like Antarctica!”
“I’m as fast as a motorcycle.”
“This boo-boo is like a volcano — it has red in the middle.”
How much more interesting it is to read (or hear) these statements than their generic counterparts! What’s fascinating to me is that even though these statements were uttered by a five-year-old, they have all the components of a good analogy.
1) They are accurate, in the sense that the sun is hot, Antarctica is cold, motorcycles are fast, and volcanoes have red lava in the middle.
2) They are easily relatable. Since we all know that the sun is hot, it is easy to imagine how being as hot as a sun might feel — which is to say, blisteringly, swelteringly hot.
3) They are surprising. At least they were to me. The first time my daughter bounded into the room and uttered an analogy, I laughed in a rather shocked way. I just didn’t expect something like that to come out of her mouth. Nothing generic or cliche about these analogies.
4) They give a good sense of character. To me, these comparisons scream out the literal mind of a five-year-old. Antarctica is cold, my daughter’s thinking goes, and I’m cold. So I must be cold as Antarctica. Never mind that the analogy doesn’t make too much sense. It works, in the humble opinion of this proud mama, in the context of the speaker.
Not to be outdone, even my three-year-old son has been known to chime in with his own simile.
“I’m as hungry as a bear!”
This statement, I admit, may be less original than the others. But if you could see the stick-thin legs and big brown eyes of the speaker, you might agree that the cuteness factor makes up for the lack of surprise.
I think all this goes to show that good writing doesn’t have to be complicated. Too often, we bang our heads over story structure, character development, world-building, and the million other things that go into writing a novel. And we should. This struggle results in the knowledge we need to grow as writers.
But we would do well to remember that good writing is rooted in something basic and instinctive. Something even young children can grasp. Something we’ve been studying from our earliest years.
Maybe then we can remember why we entered this crazy profession in the first place. Because we love it. And we always have.