As an avid—and occasionally frantic—reader of tween and YA lit, I’ve consumed more than my fair share of really bad similes. The moment I see the comparative “like” or “as” appear in a sentence, I am filled with hope. 98% of the time, what comes after said “like/as” turns my hope into disappointment—followed by a giant cringe.
You know, I get it, though: We can’t all be T.S. Eliot. But there are a lot of authors out there who just don’t know when to stop with the similes. Step away from your computers, people: Your faux writerly comparisons are hurting me.
I think “faux writerly” sums up my main gripe nicely: We can’t all be T.S. Eliot, but many writers sure are trying. Writers who have no business trying are trying, and writers who will get better with trying are trying. Personally, I am trying to have more patience with bad similes because heaven knows that writing is hard enough without some snarky critic looking over your shoulder and second-guessing the poetic comparison you just spent several hours crafting.
Thankfully for snarky critics like me, there are also writers like Pete Hautman, who seem to pop off evocative, effective similes effortlessly, thereby giving my cringing muscles a break. Maybe some people wouldn’t call his similes “evocative,” since they’re not meant to be writerly and beautiful, but rather humorous. But the images they summon are so vivid, I’m going to go ahead and give Hautman props for artistry. His imagination has certainly captured mine.
You’ll have to read his latest book, What Boys Really Want, featuring dual protagonists Lita and Adam, to fully enjoy a master simile-maker at work. But here are just a couple samples to whet your appetite:
“Lita is practically the smartest person I know, but she can be highly irrational at times. … arguing with Lita is like trying to eat an ice-cream cone from the bottom up. Very messy.”
“Arguing with Adam Merchant is as useless as climbing up a down escalator. Maybe you get to the top eventually, but it’s exhausting, and the escalator just keeps on going.”
Tell me: Who are your favorite simile-makers?