238. Simile, And The World Similes With You

I’d like to ask Ms. Perry and Ms. Sicola concerning the song titled Dark Horse: What in the world is a “perfect storm”? And how is any part of the protagonist’s coming on to her subject “like a dark horse”?

(someone should also tell Mr. Harris that force fields do not work the way he thinks they work)

It troubles me when people misuse similes. Well, yes, people also misuse metaphors, but the latter is usually more subtle, and by extension, less noticeable.

Look, is it so difficult to come up with a clever comparison? I mean, people do it all the time, and they often do it well:

“I like my women how I like my coffee: strong and black.”

“Being a lady is like being in charge: if you need to tell people you are, you’re not.”

“I like my writers how I like my villains: charming, intelligent, and would-kill-you-for-sneezing insane.”

Okay, so that last one was mine. Give me a break.

But don’t you see? It’s pretty easy to do clever similes. And using similes is like painting: if you’re trying too hard, you’re not doing it right.

(see what I did there?)

My love for similes is an integral part of my love for hardboiled fiction. I mean, just look at this gem from Mr. Higgins:

“It was darker than a carload of assholes.”

My favorite, incidentally the winner of the 2012 Bulwer-Lytton Prize for crime, is by Ms. Fondrie, and it goes like this:

“She slinked through my door wearing a dress that looked like it had been painted on … not with good paint, like Behr or Sherwin-Williams, but with that watered-down stuff that bubbles up right away if you don’t prime the surface before you slap it on, and – just like that cheap paint – the dress needed two more coats to cover her.”

Poetry. Right there. Beauty in words. Horrific, but better than the pointless simile that is “I’m coming for you like a dark horse”, which means next to nothing.

If writing is like cooking or baking, all the same rules apply: if you intend to sell it, make sure it’s at least good. There are no rules on how you should roast chicken, and if you like your chicken burnt to a crisp – hey, it’s your party – go right ahead. But if you’re going to send it out to the public, please at least know what a proper roast chicken should look like.

In the same way, please don’t hurt my soul with bad similes anymore. It’s a fragile one, and it’s the only one I have, even if I don’t use it often.

(this reminds me of a line from a Coen brothers’ film. Tommy, replying to a remark of incredulity that he sold his immortal soul to the devil in exchange for wicked guitar skills: “Well, I wasn’t using it for nothing…”)

But apart from that, by all means simile. The world similes with you. I just hope that most of them do it in private.


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