How to Write Great Analogies

Photo credit: matsuyuki on Flickr
Let’s play a quick game of choose your favorite. Which of these would you prefer?

Finding x would be like…

...looking for a needle in a haystack. 


...picking out a specific thread from a fifty-foot tapestry. 

How about these?

We’d be sitting ducks out there! 


It’d be like target practice—with our foreheads as bulls-eyes. 

I’m not a gambler, but I’m willing to bet that most of you prefer the second examples to the first, and the reason behind it is pretty simple: the first examples are cliché.

When first drafting analogies, we often tend to use these overused comparisons as a crutch. While writing quickly, it can be considerably more difficult to stop and think of unique analogy, so while first drafting, this isn’t something writers need worry much about.

During the revision process, however, replacing those clichéd analogies with fresh metaphors and similes can make all the difference.

While coming up with fresh analogies isn’t always as easy as we might like, I usually take the same sort of steps while replacing first draft comparisons with new ones:

  1. Figure out what you’re trying to say. This may seem obvious, but this is hugely important. Before you can really start thinking about other ways to say what your cliché conveyed, you have to nail down exactly what you’re trying to say.

  2. Think about your POV character. The best analogies are ones that make sense for your character. If your POV character is a mage in a medieval fantasy, it would make little sense for him to compare raindrops to bullets. Likewise, a 21st century solider is unlikely to make analogies to dragons’ teeth and the smell of sage.

  3. Brainstorm a few possibilities, then choose your favorite. Oftentimes, the first idea you come up with is not your best (that’s why you’re replacing the cliché to begin with). Dig a little deeper and brainstorm until you come up with the image that best hits the idea you’re trying to convey and fits your character. Once you’ve found one that meets both criteria, you know you’re on the right track. 

What tips do you have for writing great analogies? Do you have any examples of particularly interesting ones you’d like to share? 


Sarah Anne Foster said...

I prefer "looking for a needle in a pile of needles." :)

I realized I don't really think about analogies as I'm writing them. I just looked over a draft and found "sitting like a rock in my stomach" and I cringed. I feel like I should weed them all out now!

Ava Jae said...

I don't think it's necessarily important to think too much about it in initial drafting, but I've found that it's a great way to make your writing stronger in later drafts. :)

Robin Red said...

My analogies have been on fire lately (<-- besides the one I just made). I think, to write really good ones, a writer must be fully aware of the story, its context, and the writer has to be relaxed and—most importantly—happy! Or it could just be me, but when I'm in "the zone", the analogies are much more natural and unique.

Ava Jae said...

I think what you said about story and context is especially important, because a great analogy in one story may not fit at all in another.

Also, I've found that "being in the zone" tends to make a lot of things easier. :)

Manisha India said...

I prefer writing down points and make a rough draft. I use novel words. Why don't you use for your list? It's a free tool, lacks some features but it's still in beta, so... I am pretty sure you'll love using it. Thanks for posting your words.

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