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On Writing Publishable Material - Avoid Simile Writing To Excess

By Expert Author: Jimmy Anderson

In a recent article I extolled the virtues of crafting quality similes and the ways they can enhance the reading experience. But as I thought about this later, it occurred to me that I've often experienced cases when similes are used to excess, so I decided to address the issue of overuse in this article.
First, One Simile Per Paragraph, Please
I've read material from famous authors in which two similes appear in a single paragraph, and even back to back. Honesty compels me to admit that I, too, committed this crime once or twice when I started out as a novelist.
The problem is that the second simile tends to diminish the first offering. For readers just getting through the initial simile, and what all writers hope will be a smile at the cleverness involved in its creation, a second following too closely does nothing but turn the text into a mental jigsaw puzzle in which the picture, once clear, is now jumbled and awaiting reconstitution. The mind can stand only so much manipulation before getting back to the storyline.
Second, One or Two Similes Per Scene
And this scene might well extend throughout an entire chapter. In my earlier article I alluded to Joseph Conrad's enormous skill at writing similes. But I also remember what I felt was his overdoing it in LORD JIM.
From a contemporary perspective, "heads in the crowd popping up and down like figures in a Bang-a-Troll game" is generally all the reader needs to know to get the full flavor of the author's characterization. And anything more will likely diminish the impetus of the comparison.
Third, Everything Doesn't Require a Simile
Perhaps the most important statement of all is what I just wrote. I've read many books by unpublished writers who believe that the more similes they write the more they will be respected as masters of the English language. One adeptly conceived simile that is pertinent to the theme of a scene is better than a dozen average offerings which do nothing to advance the characterization.
Quality Over Quantity Should Be a Writer's Mantra
I realize this applies to every aspect of prose writing, but an author's similes will be held to a high standard, and if they are not at a consistent level of excellence, soon the technique will be viewed as overwriting, and a quick death for a work's chances at any level.

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