Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Analogies: the hidden element in writing

One subject of writing I think gets overlooked is the topic of analogies.  All writers use them, but do they use them properly? 

“Asphalt cut the country like a scar, a long, hot burn of razor-black.” — John Hart, The Last Child.  

That is the first sentence of John Hart's book, The Last Child.  I love this analogy because not only does it describe the road and setting in short, exquisite detail, but it also sheds light on the mood/atmosphere of the book, offers a fantastic and fitting symbol for the story, and even embodies the emotional influences of the characters before and after the events that take place - excellent.  All of that in just 13 words.

This is one part of my writing I find easier to notice improvement in than say character and plot development.  When I look back at old stories (like last week), I cringe at some of the analogies I have used.  Analogies may also be one element of writing that stands out for editors/publishers too, showing just how adept the writer is in conveying their message and providing unique descriptions that adequately represent the passage and story as a whole. 

Here are some of the side notes my editor has given me regarding analogies: could be better, does not clarify the message, is too common, interrupts the flow, and too confusing

Below, I thought I’d put together a short list of things to consider when using analogies: 

  • Does the analogy adequately clarify the passage it is describing? 
  • Is the analogy too common, cliché, or boring?
  • Does the analogy take advantage of the five senses? 
  • Does the analogy interrupt the flow of reading?  (If it stops/slows you, it will more than likely stop/slow the reader too)
  • Does the analogy fit the theme/mood of the story?
  • Is the analogy too confusing, long or complex?  (The purpose of the analogy is to use simpler terms to explain complicated terms.)
  • Could it be better?

Please feel free to add your own thoughts and/or suggestions in the comments section below.


  1. Thanks for this! When they are good, analogies are very, very good and certainly serve to advise me that I have found a hitherto unread writer worth reading when used in the first page or so. Yet, recognising this, I find them really, really hard to write myself.
    I also recognise that they can be over-used - too many and it feels like the writer is showing off (or perhaps that's just me!).

    1. I agree. If there's an analogy in every other sentence, it begins to take away from the story, the constant description. Thanks, Sandra.

  2. I think they can be a good way of setting the tone, or introducing a change of mood.

    1. Yes, these are some of my favorites too.

  3. You're right, analogies do get overlooked. I honestly never think about them until one of my critique partners points them out in my writing. My goal this week will be to try and write a few analogies as practice. Thanks, Erin!

  4. Great. Good luck, Von. Do share if you'd like.

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