Trees planted by fire | Compare This


You have done it!

Your manuscript is immaculate in its presentation; you have found your distinctive authorial voice, the prose sounds just right, and even those tricky modifiers have been wiped off the page, within reason. What do we go hunting for next?

Analogies, similes and metaphors – collectively referred to as comparison.

I have to admit that I shy away from comparison. To me, there is no trickier devil to get right. This is rather strange considering that my poetry abounds with similes. When it comes to prose however… I tend to err on the side of caution.

Let’s have a quick look at some definitions, just to get warmed up.

Analogy: a) Similarity in some respects between things that are otherwise dissimilar. b) A comparison based on such similarity. E.g.: “Just as a sword is the weapon of a warrior, a pen is the weapon of a writer.”

Simile: A figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared, often in a phrase introduced by “like” or “as”, as in “How like the winter hath my absence been” or “So are you to my thoughts as food to life.”

Metaphor: A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in “a sea of troubles” or “All the world’s a stage” (Shakespeare).

The use of comparison is to a writer the equivalent of putting their writing skills under a spotlight. When a reader comes across a comparison they stop and pay attention. Comparisons are a double-edged sword: get it right and the reader will thank you for it, get it wrong and you are in big trouble.

Once again we return to the cliché – because it is in the world of comparisons that clichés abound and are most difficult to eradicate. The use of clichéd comparisons is one sure way of getting our manuscript off the agent’s desk and into the rejection pile.

How do we avoid this? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Use comparison sparingly. Only key ideas necessitate comparison in order to clarify them and create a memorable image in the reader’s mind. Two comparisons on one page are one too many.
  2. Avoid commonplace comparisons as this will make your writing appear commonplace too. Don’t make your characters sweat like pigs, laugh like madmen or make it to their destination in the nick of time for example.
  3. Precision is your best friend when it comes to comparison. Does the comparison bring to light the idea exactly as you imagined it would? If not. Cut it out and try again.

Comparison is the spice of prose. It can make a bland dish extraordinary, but add too much and you’ve ruined the whole.

One way to enrich your comparison stock is by adding to it every day. Open a new document, pick a random object and give free rein to your imagination. Come up with five new ways of describing that object and let them simmer on the page. When you come back to it, you may discover a gem.

Compare – Contrast – Enjoy!