A lot to like about like


Read to become a better writer.

I’ve never had a problem with that advice since I read more than 100 books per year. But when I became serious enough to write my own stories, my habits changed from reading for pure enjoyment to reading as an analyzer or student of another author’s writing.

Back then I’d take out my highlighter and spread yellow across my favorite lines. The result was the books I read looked more like a college textbook. I then changed to writing my favorite lines in a journal, leaving the books in much better condition for the next reader.

One of the areas of writing that I was having trouble with at the time was the use of ‘like’ in comparisons. Mine sounded so cliché:

My heart pounded like a drum.

Not that unique or creative. Now, after years of reading MG books, I have a nice collection of like’s to learn from, and how to use them. Here are some examples…

One of he reasons to use like is to let the reader experience an image of what the character is looking at. Author Jack Gantos gives us a perfect example in DEAD END IN NORVELT:

I glanced at my hair in the mirror. My brown curls stood up on my head like a field planted with question marks. There was no reason to brush it. The question marks would just stand up into exclamation points and then wilt back over into question marks.

Like can also be used to provide further understanding of sensory stimuli. Here are few short lines from the marvelous CONFESSIONS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND by Michelle Cuevas (I’ll have a review next week and a giveaway):

“What is that smell?” they would shout over and over. “It smells like whale belches and mustache crumbs. Like stale dreams and moldy milk stew. It smells … like dirty socks!”

Yes, it would have been easier to say the smell was bad, but the effect is not nearly what you get from those lines.

The final way I’ve seen ‘like’ used is setting the scene at the beginning of chapter. The upcoming MYSTERIES OF COVE: FIRES OF INVENTION by J. Scott Savage uses this early on in his fantastic new series:

The electric bulbs in little brass cages on the wall were still dark, and the flickering gas lamp in the corner made his shadow waver like a frightened ghost.

Yes, I’m in that small room with the main character, Trenton, thanks to that line.

So go on and use like in your writing… just not too much. Use only when you need to make a comparison that will enhance the experience for your readers.

Happy Labor Day weekend to all! Three day weekends are like a gift that make you smile when opened.

Better, but I’ll keep working at it.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
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8 Responses to A lot to like about like

  1. Andrea says:

    Great examples! Thanks for the reminder.

  2. mckayll says:

    Interesting post! It’s always so tricky to come up with new comparisons.

  3. diegosdragon says:

    Remember that a first draft “like” line doesn’t have to be perfect. Write what’s in your heart and then come back and make the “like” comparison stronger.

  4. So I clicked “Liked” your post. It is a tricky word, but when used well it may be the best choice..

  5. I like me some good similes. 😉 Thanks for the examples.

  6. Great post Greg. Couldn’t agree more. And thanks for the mention.

  7. These examples are great! Thanks for the reminder to use fresh similes, but sparingly.

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