Do you ever lose something, only to find it later in a place you swear you looked, and say to yourself, “I’m as blind as a bat sometimes”? Or maybe you’ve been concerned about a friend’s pale appearance and asked them why they look as white as a ghost. In either case, you used a simile—one of the clearest ways to make comparisons in language.
So if you’re trying to elevate your creative writing from being as dull as dishwater to sharp as a tack, you’re in the right place! We’ll walk you through exactly what a simile is, along with a few famous examples that can guide you when you’re writing similes of your own.
What Is a Simile?
Before we dig into some examples, let’s take a look at a quick simile definition. Essentially, a simile is a figure of speech used to describe something by comparing it to something else with a similar attribute, using “like” or “as” to connect the two items. The purpose of similes is to provide readers with a vivid and engaging image of the character, object, or concept that’s being described without needing to use multiple adjectives to convey the same message.
As you’re learning how to use similes in your writing, you’ll probably notice most of them include some kind of hyperbole or exaggeration. Similes aren’t taken literally, much like other literary devices, and they use heightened language to emphasize the comparison being made.
For example, when describing someone’s personality being “as tough as nails,” we’re not being literal—emotions and feelings can’t be directly compared to a physical object! Instead, we understand the concept of nails being hard, sharp, and tough and can therefore easily attribute these same qualities to the personality we’re trying to describe.
While they’re commonly spotted throughout literature and poetry, using similes happens more than you’d think in our everyday lives. Phrases like “dry as a bone” and “light as a feather” have worked their way into our common speech patterns.
The basic structure when writing similes is to use “like” or “as” to highlight a similarity between two subjects. In fact, knowing that “simile” sounds like “similar” can help you remember the definition!
Types of Similes
While you might think the simile structure is straightforward, there are in fact two distinct simile types writers use: traditional rhetoric and homeric.
Traditional Rhetorical Simile
This simile type is likely the one you’re more familiar with. A traditional rhetorical simile follows a “[descriptive word or adjective] like/as a [noun]” structure in a few words. Examples of similes like this are:
- As bold as brass
- As tall as a giraffe
- Fits like a glove
- Sticks out like a sore thumb
- As cool as a cucumber
- As cunning as a fox
- Has eyes like a hawk
Homeric or Epic Simile
While homeric or epic similes follow the same pattern as rhetorical similes, they tend to stretch over several lines of text instead of being neatly wrapped up in four or five words.
Named after the ancient Greek writer Homer, homeric similes are much grander and are typically found in poetry to emphasize the subject matter or some kind of heroic gesture. An example of this from Homer’s own work, the Odyssey is:
I drove my weight on it from above and bored it home
as a shipwright bores his beam with a shipwright’s drill
Infuse Your Poetry With Descriptive Language
Writing for Expression: How to Make Your Words More Artful & Lyrical
Similes in Poetry
Poetry is known for its immersive language, which makes similes the perfect literary device to spark your reader’s imagination. The connections made by similes can help to develop concepts and ideas that are complex to discuss, and the lyrical framing of similes in poetry allows the writer to paint a clear picture for the reader.
Examples of Poetic Similes
Maya Angelou was largely known for her prose, but her poetry is full of similes and comparisons to get her point across. In her most famous poem, And Still I Rise, she uses several examples of similes to describe nature:
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Widely considered to be the father of Romanticism, British poet William Wordsworth was known for using similes in his work. While I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud is perhaps his most notable, and one of the most famous simile examples in poetry, his eulogy to fellow poet John Milton also features this literary tactic:
The soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free
How to Write Similes
Learning how to use similes in your own work is an excellent exercise to stretch your creative writing muscles. It’s perfectly fine to drop in a few classic examples we all know and use in our daily language, but it’ll infuse your work with originality if you write some originals, too.
Make sure your comparisons are clear and work within the context of what you’re saying. The simile should fit with the pattern of language you or your characters are already using, so it flows naturally with the rest of the narrative.
And remember to keep your similes as visual as possible to help your reader imagine what’s going on. There are plenty of examples throughout literature and popular culture to inspire you.
Examples of Similes in Writing
Whether it’s George Orwell’s 1984 and the line, “He sat as still as a mouse, in the futile hope that whoever it was might go away after a single attempt,” or “Her romantic mind was like the tiny boxes, one within the other, that come from the puzzling East” in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, fiction is full of similes.
And just like with poetry, you’ll also find simile examples in song lyrics as a means to convey feelings and emotions. The title line of Bridge Over Troubled Water is a simile (“like a bridge over troubled water”) comparing safe passage across a turbulent landscape, while Beyonce’s “hit me like a ray of sun” from Halo describes her feelings when a romantic relationship blossoms in her life.
The Difference Between Simile and Metaphor
They may seem similar, but understanding the difference between similes and metaphors is important as a writer. Similes are a type of metaphor, but metaphors are never similes. While both are used to make comparisons, similes are more direct and obvious with their use of “like” and “as.” Without those, you have yourself a metaphor.
Metaphors state that something is something else (even if that isn’t literally true). For example, “life is an open book” is a metaphor. The writer assumes we already know they’re being figurative, so they don’t have to be as explicit as a simile.
The Difference Between Simile and Analogy
Another type of literary comparison is an analogy. But instead of comparing two or more subjects directly (with “like,” “as,” or neither), an analogy uses an idea you’re already familiar with to create a comparative description as a commentary or to make a point. For example, take Elizabeth Bowen’s line in The House of Paris: “Memory is to love what the saucer is to the cup.”
In some cases, similes can be used in conjunction with an analogy to make it stronger. “Time is like a thief, stealing moments of our lives” would be an example of this. But you don’t have to use a simile in a comparison to make something an analogy.
Make Your Writing As Sharp As a Razor
Introducing similes into your creative writing helps you engage your readers and practice using descriptive language in new and interesting ways. Start small, get creative, and before you know it, you’ll be a master!
Hone Your Creative Writing Craft!
Creative Writing for All: Develop a Regular & Rewarding Writing Practice