Learn to Write Like William Faulkner: Boost Your Descriptions With Awesome Similes

Learn to Write Like William Faulkner: Boost Your Descriptions With Awesome Similes

One of the most evocative, memorable, and poetic writing techniques is the simile—and its cousin the metaphor.

A simile describes something by comparing it to something else: The sky was blue, like a robin’s egg.

A metaphor describes something by saying it is something else: The sky was the blue of a robin’s egg.

With practice, we can learn to wield these powerful figures of speech with precision and originality. The result is unforgettably vivid prose.

Flags in the dust William FaulknerMaster wordsmith William Faulkner did this to admirable effect in his early novel Flags in the Dust (also published in a slightly abridged version under the title Sartoris).

For example, in describing a faded Southern society belle, Faulkner employs two powerful similes. He writes that:

[The woman’s] flesh draped loosely from her cheek-bones like rich, slightly soiled velvet; her eyes were like the eyes of an old turkey, mucous and predatory and unwinking.

His choice of similes not only presents a vibrate image for the reader’s mind’s eye, but he also makes his descriptions do double duty by using them to give us a sense of the woman herself.

Permit me a simile of my own: similes are like Egyptian chocolate.

Their rich, deep sweetness lingers in our memories. Well-placed they work marvels. But be wary of overusing them. Packing your every description with a simile, or a metaphor, only overwhelms the general effect. Throw out all but the most powerful comparisons. Polish those that remain and watch them light up your writing.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What are some of your favorite similes in fiction? Tell me in the comments!

Learn to Write Like William Faulkner: Boost Your Descriptions With Awesome Similes

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Hey uh, the link here is dead unfortunately. I’ve been struggling with metaphors lately and was hoping to read it. Maybe you can bring the content back to your site? Just thought I’d let you know.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks for letting me know! Since the original site where this was published is now gone, I’ve republished the entire article here.

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