Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Another attempt at a writing post.

This is my last day here in Okie land and for those of you who care. I did a bit better at the casino this visit although not well enough to skip work for even a day.

Thought I'd make today my day to blog about writing and since I have had several comments on metaphors and similes that seems as good a subject as any. Here is my list of do's and don't when it comes to metaphors and similes. As usual I do not proclaim to be an expert I'm merely sharing my position and how I choose to write.

DO avoid cliches -- Finer than frog hair, stiff as a board, happy as a clam, wilder than a march hare there are a tone of these cliched phrased and you should avoid them except maybe in dialogue where you have a character who would say things like this.

DON"T overuse them - This is something I have to watch myself. We all have that one annoying uncle or brother in law who thinks he's cute and constantly speaks in catch phrases, metaphors and similes. A conversation with them might sound like this. I was hungry enough to eat a horse do I went down the the cafe. You know the one with the waitress that is hotter than a pistol. I asked if she had any fried to go along with that shake, but she just looked at me like I was dumber than a box of rocks. So then I turned to ol' Charlie and said, "She's colder than a witch's tit in a brass bra."

Not only is the paragraph riddled with cliche's but it is overwhelming as well. you reader will become numb if forced to read page after page of this, or they will close the book and say what idiot wrote this. I made the above paragraph up on the spur of the moment but here is an example from the short story version of Plundered Booty.

I joined the other salesmen in pretending to study the sticker of a candy apple red Mustang. That convertible pony was a hot ride, but it had sat in the middle of the showroom for a couple of weeks. What they were really sizing up was their chances with this new gal. To tell the truth, I wasn’t even sure Junior had a chance with this one.

Hair darker than a new set of Michelin’s. Lips that put the gloss on that Mustang to shame. A body with more curves than a Porsche. But it was those eyes that got me.

Bright, innocent eyes. Big and round like the headlights of a late-fifties sedan. The kind of eyes that said, I got a big block under the hood, but I’d never use my power for mere thrills. I’m only looking to get you safely to your destination.

This section is bordering on being excessive but since it all ties together and fits the theme, I think, or at least hope it works okay. Which takes me to my next point.

DO make your metaphors and similes fit the character and tone -- In the above paragraph the first person narrator is a car salesman. He is proud of his job and is a car guy through and through which is why I sue vehicle related terms throughout the story. You don't want to be writing a historical romance and say His abs were tighter than a fat man's speedo. First of all speedos were not around in that time period and second of all if you are building sexual tension the last thing you want is your reader imagining a fat man in skimpy attire.

And if you are writing a suspense or a thriller you would want something like ... His footsteps echoed down the hall. Her heart hammered against her chest. Like a fly in a spider's web, fear held her in place. Okay that stinks but I never claimed to be a suspense writer. But this is even worse because it totally destroys the mood. He walked down the hall. Her heart sped up. She wanted to get up and run but like a baby in a car seat fear held her in place. A baby in a car seat does not set the same mood as a spider web. The examples kind of stink but hopefully you get my meaning.

DO use the world you've created. Writing a western? Use guns, rugged terrain, dusty cowtown streets and the like for comparison, A Sci-Fi? computers the black emptiness of space, planets and such.

I have decided that my writing posts are my least favorite. i never feel like I do a good job of getting my point across and I always feel like a blathering idiot when I get done. Maybe this helps someone out there I don't know. There are better blogs out there that discuss the craft, and there are certainly more qualified people to discuss the technical side of writing, but since I started this blog to talk about writing I feel like I should do that very thing from time to time.

So all me fellow writers help me and others out by adding you own do's and don'ts to the comments section.


Terrie Farley Moran said...

Hi Travis,

Get home safely.

I'll have to think about this.

Big city girl that I am, I am still reeling over the fact that "finer than a frogs hair" is a cliche. I swear I never heard it or read it before!

Back later, if I can.


alex keto said...

Same here on "finer than a frog's hair." It was news to me.

But that old cliche of "tighter than a fat man's speedo."

Hell, we use that all the time in Washington. Yep, just about every other phrase, and that old fat man is rearing his ugly rear again in the middle of the conversation. Can't barely get through a day without it. Why even the president uses it to describe his own budget.

On a more serious note, I will remember the phrase and actually try to use it in a conversation. I bet it will be a show stopper as everyone grimaces.

alex keto said...

oh, and also, the list of metaphors you used from plundered booty works. it's not excessive.
Why, I'd even venture to say that that is an example of writing that is tighter than a fat man's speedo. (sorry couldn't resist)

Dawn said...

Umm - "she's colder than a witch's tit in a brass bra". Actually, I don't have any uncles that say that! Must be an American expresion.

Angie said...

I'm with Terrie and Alex in never having heard "finer than frog hair" before. If that's cliche, I think it's only so on a regional basis.

That's the problem with cliches -- a lot of them vary from person to person. I remember this one English paper I wrote in college where I said something about a crowd of people bowing as someone went by, and used "like grass rippling in the wind) or something similar. I made that up, darn it all! But my teacher scratched through it and commented "Cliche!" In a later paragraph, I said something about a "sprawl of parking lot" which I'd shamelessly cribbed from any number of other writers, and that one got a "Good!" comment. [eyeroll]

The older cliches, the "sly as a fox" or "sharp as a tack" types, have a pretty broad range. But with others it can be tough to tell whether or not your audience will have heard them before. Even making something up from scratch doesn't always work, as demonstrated by my English teacher's comments. [wry smile]

You make a good point, though, about even the most blatant cliches sometimes being appropriate in dialogue. Heck, just about anything is sometimes appropriate in dialogue; it depends on the character. [nod]


Alyssa Goodnight said...

I thought your excerpt was great--loved the metaphors, thought they worked perfectly!

I don't do them so well myself--I can never seem to think of that perfect one, either coming in on the cliched side or the 'way out there' side. But I'm working on it.

Gotta chime in: never heard of the frog's hair one--maybe it's not as cliched as you thought.

preTzel said...

I love writing to torture similes and over - use the metaphors. Hell, that's what makes writing fun when you're looking for a good laugh. I'm going to have to look over some of my old writing and find some of the run - ons and such that I used to do just for fun.

" She gasped with pleasure as his fingers, rough like the top - side of a cat's tongue, whispered over her skin like a feather whispering on the wind. "

Or jumping off a line like...

One dark and stormy night...

And making it one huge run - on and using silly names for your romantic hero.

Rod Steel

Barry Hung


Having fun with writing is how one gets moving. Torture it, over use it, toss it, re - write it, edit it, play with it, and then write some more of it.

Did you ever read my piece called Juror Deluxe? I wrote that one day after not being picked for jury duty. It's fully of cliches, metaphors, and similes. It's also a fun read and was totally cathartic. It's on my blog. :)

WordVixen said...

Nope- never heard of the frog's hair either. :) And while I hear "colder than a witch's tit", I've never heard of the brass bra!
Hair darker than a new set of Michelin’s- I love this! Of course, I work for a tire wholesaler...

Big and round like the headlights of a late-fifties sedan and this cracked me up. It also sums up the character's personality completely.

And this His footsteps echoed down the hall. Her heart hammered against her chest. Like a fly in a spider's web, fear held her in place was also very good. I actually got chills reading it. Of course, I hate suspense, but it would work in any genre so long as it was a suspenseful situation.

WordVixen said...

Oh, and Travis? Tag!

Penelope said...

Are you returning to "God's Country" (a.k.a Texas)???

-- P

Jason said...

Don't be so hard on yourself Travis. You have a lot of good advice to offer. And spending time with all them Okies would make me more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full o' rockin' chairs.

Yep. I'm hopelessly NOT funny.

Phats said...

I love casinos! Last time won 400$

Again where were you during my comp classes at Purdue?!

Helen Shearer said...

I've never heard of finer than a frog hair but some one did tell me to scooch over a frog hair once. Similes are hard to write but when you think of a good one there's nothing better. I've never heard tighter than a fat man's Speedo, but my dad used to say tighter than a duck's arse...and that's water tight.

I'm gonna have to get in here sooner from now on. I was going to tag you too but that wordvixen beat me to it! Aren't you the popular one today?

Bernita said...

"DO make your metaphors and similes fit the character and tone"
Glad you included this. The wrong simile or metaphor - no matter how clever - can jolt a reader out of the scene.
Avoid "piling on" - also good advice - with the type of exception you noted when he waxes eloquent and in character.

alex keto said...

By the way, meant to mention it yesterday, but Tom Wolfe does similar things with metaphors that you did in Plundered Booty. He stacks metaphors along the same vein and let's them build on each other.
So... your example is not that far out there.

Ello said...

Tighter than a fat man's speedo.

So awesome. Unfortunately, I've seen alot of them around so the visual is not so awesome. But that frogs hair one has got me stumped!

Travis Erwin said...

Okay I'll say it publicly. My dad, whenever he was actually around(which Jason can attest was not often) could carry on entire conversations in worn out phrases and colloquisms.

I have heard finer than a frog's hair since I was knee high to a duck. My dad uses to put me in a headlock and say I've seen better lookin heads on a mug of root beer or I've seen better heads of lettuce.

Maybe that is why I hate lettuce to this day. Anyway here are a lsit of more of my dad'a saying which I assumed were all cliche but I'll let you all be the judge.
But I'll warn you they are not all nice images.

runs like a Singer sewing machine.

I gotta pee like a stomped on frog.

ran like a scaled ape.

hungry enough to eat the ass end of a menstrating skunk.

stiffer than a preacher's dick.

sweating like a whore in church on judgement day.

That's enough for y'all to get what I'm talking about. One or two now and then would be okay but they get tiresome when there is some such saying every sentence.

By the way the fat man is a speedo was one I made up and included in my last novel.

And PretZel I agree you can break almsot any rule in the name of comedy.

Thanks for all the comments.

Patti said...


oh, wait, i din't finish my sentiment.

eliminate great qualifiers.

Jenster said...

I think your posts on writing are great.

Love the exerpt from your story. I think it works quite nicely.

WordVixen said...

Travis- Why do I find the frog ones the funniest?

Helen- Sorry about that, but we can share! :)

Adriann said...

Your father is quite a character. He's funnier than a... I'm terrible with cliches. Thanks for the tips. They will help me with my own writing.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't think I've ever actually heard "finer than a frog's hair" either. The rest you list as cliches, yes.

As for metaphors, I tend not to care much for extended metaphors, where the author keeps it going and going. There are a lot of pitfalls in that, it seems to me. But I love metaphorical writing in general. It reminds me of a haiku in prose, capturing just a perfect moment or image.

Skiingred said...

Good post... one must know the rules before he could break them. Use at your own risk (oops..that too cliche?)

One that really bothers me... "on the other hand" especially when the first hand isn't mentioned to begin with!

Bluefingers said...


Those are the rules I live by. Great post my dear.



Lois Karlin said...

Some wise stuff here...but I like cliches! Some of them are just the ticket!