I don’t recall what grade I was in when I first heard about simile or metaphor. I’ll be honest, I’ve pretty much neglected—up until recently, that is—seeking a better understanding of metaphor, and perhaps, in part, because it’s always been easy to remember what a simile is.
I’ll get to metaphor some other day and, suffice it say [in my opinion], metaphor is very similar to simile, but instead of comparing by saying something is “like”, “as”, (or is similar too; you can also throw in “than”), we flat out say it IS [something it really isn't.]
But please be patient; I’ll get to some simple metaphors next time.
In school we were told, “Simile is a device in literature used to compare two things that aren’t alike, by using the words ‘like’ or ‘as.’”
Most of us can rattle off similes without much problem.
A few quick examples would be:
• She runs like a gazelle.
• He wiggles like a worm.
• He’s as sharp as a tack.
• Thoughts flowing like/as water.
• Bigger than a bear.
• More powerful than a locomotive [recognize that one?]
I say simile is the first real step to storyshowing [not a recognized word, by the way] we can readily teach to our children or students, because it’s easy to use the experience association inherent to simile. What I mean is, we can’t compare something, using simile, if we haven’t made the observation ourselves, through experience, or at least had someone point out the similarities to us; kids will make their own associations and, when teaching “show don’t tell”, it’s best to build on those associations you know kids will have made rather than something an adult would.
Simile, in my estimation should be easy to teach to kids, because kids naturally use simile in their day-to-day speech, which they learn, of course, from mom and dad, friends, classmates, and teachers:
“You look like a princess!”
“Your house looks like a castle!”
“Eww! Your feet smell like rotten eggs!”
“You’re as smart as scientist!”
“She’s as pretty as a movie star.”
In truth, kids do pick up such expressions, mostly, from adults or other kids who picked them up from adults! But sometimes, kids come up with their own, cute, quirky, and often humorous expressions of simile of their own:
“That man’s shoes are as big as a circus clown’s!”
“When Nastassja twirls, her pigtails look like whizzing helicopter blades!
Aren’t those more vivid than “The man had big feet”, and, “When she spins, her pigtails stick almost straight out!”?
And since it’s not necessarily hard to get kids to come up with examples of simile, it is important to get them thinking about WHY we make such comparisons and WHEN to use them in creative writing [or speaking].
And keep in mind: gaining these skills won’t only benefit your kids when they write or speak creatively while in school and such; having skills like these will greatly assist them throughout life, and achieving excellence in these will build confidence that will fuel all of your children’s life endeavors [hopefully, of course, only for good.]
So how do we teach kids how to effectively use simile in storyshowing? Again, let’s not over think things, and just apply those same principles I covered in my previous posts on this subject. But if you have yet to read those and don’t want to click away, here’s a brief synopsis:
• LOOK for “ The Secret Story.”
• ASK why things are the way they are.
• DECIDE on reasons for why things PROBABLY are the way they are.
• FIND words to explain how your decisions make sense.
Now…onto teaching kids how to use simile to “show instead of tell.”
In my other posts, my examples were still—admittedly, for the most part—examples an adult would be more likely to use than a child, so I’ll use one of the quirky “child” examples I used above [I actually thought them up, trying to think what a kid might say]; you can write down those you hear the children in your life say, and build on those, using these exercises.
So here goes:
“That man’s shoes are as big as a circus clown’s!”
Now, maybe, in real life, a man with such humongous shoes is also very tall and there’s probably no real “secret story” to discover, but in creating stories, it’s okay to imagine one.
Maybe this man had an emergency foot transplant, and the only feet available were from a clown who had been killed by an elephant that sat on him! There…we’ve just covered LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and we’ve begun to FIND words to explain how your child’s decisions are reasonable [again…for fiction; stories don’t have to always be truly reasonable]. So let’s take my peculiar scenario here and come up with a bit of vivid imagery.
The man’s feet looked like they had been taken from a clown whose feet had been run over by a steamroller. The look on the man’s face, when he walked, made it obvious he was in pain, and as I noticed the bloody bandages around his ankles I wondered if he had had a foot transplant and ended up with giant clown feet instead of the right size for his body.
I admit my description, here, is pretty ridiculous, but that’s okay; you WANT to encourage zany, far-fetched thinking when teaching storyshowing! Let’s embellish the next “kid” example:
When Nastassja twirls, her pigtails look like whizzing helicopter blades!
So what might be Nastassja’s secret story? You might say Nastassja has had ballet lessons or figure skating experience. Those are pretty good, but let’s really let our imaginations run wild. Perhaps Nastassja is really the daughter of a once-famous, Russian, ballerina mother, and has been taught ballet since she could walk.
Notice how I’ve created a secret story for Nastassja that almost immediately takes care of LOOK, ASK, & DECIDE? It appears that way because I have practiced LOOK, ASK, and DECIDE for many years, and I only recently identified these “steps” for the sake of these exercises; it’s not like I’m some sort of genius, here! So let’s jazz up Nastassja’s story a bit more.
Nastassja looked like a ballerina or ice skater when she twirled. Her swirling pigtails reminded us of a golden halo or helicopter blades that swished the air, and her face was almost as blurry as hummingbird wings.
Do you see how the use of simile here calls up more vivid imagery in your mind than the first sentence? Of course, my description, here, deals only with Nastassja’s twirling and her pigtails. If you were writing more about the girl, you could encourage your child or student to think more about Nastassja’s secret story: what does Nastassja’s voice sound like? Does she have an accent? Be careful encouraging kids to get TOO descriptive, though; experienced book publishers will tell you a few, choice phrases often do more to ignite readers’ imaginations, rather than giving SO much detail the reader’s mind has no fun in completing the mental picture!
Remember, when teaching kids the use of simile in storyshowing, to use comparisons that make sense, too. For example, you wouldn’t say, “The man’s feet were as big as throw cushions.” People wouldn’t normally make such a comparison, would they? Even kids tend to make comparisons that make sense [to their minds] because the comparisons that come to mind makes sense to them and remind them of something else. Also keep in mind, when teaching children the use of simile in creative writing, to “borrow” from experiences of their own—it will make for much livelier storyshowing.
Next up: “What is Meta Phor?”