Metaphor and Simile: What They Are and Why You Need Them by James R. Callan

James R Callan, author of A Silver Medallion, is my guest this week. He’s here to talk about metaphors and similes. Hope you find this useful. Enjoy.

James: If you’re writing fiction, you need to use metaphors and similes.  Why?  Because you need to develop memorable characters, characters that your readers can hardly wait to tell their friends about.  “You’ve got to read this book. You’ll (love, hate, laugh at, cry about, want to marry, want to kill—pick one) this character (supply name here).”

So, what do I mean by metaphors and similes in fiction.

“John had big ears.”  That’s not going to make John memorable. “John had large ears.”  Nope. No better.  “John had huge ears.”  A tiny bit better.  “John’s ears looked like weather balloons attached to his head.”  That’s a simile – comparing two things which are dissimilar items, such as comparing ears to weather balloons, and using the word “like” or “as.” Which description are you going to remember?  Sure, it’s a gross exaggeration, but it gets the idea across and in a way that will be remembered.

“Mano’s hand was a catcher’s mitt.”  That is a metaphor — the comparison of two things that are in general not alike, without using “like” or “as.” The reader knows this guy didn’t really have a catcher’s mitt for a hand. But the reader knows very clearly, this guy had big hands, exceptionally big hands, beefy hands. Your reader will remember that feature about him. You, the author, can use that fact later in the book to good advantage. And guess what?  The reader will remember.

“Her eyes were like sapphires cut to catch the light and sparkle.”  Simile. (Her eyes were like…) “His eyes were lasers, the kind that cut through steel.” Metaphor.  (His eyes were …)  “He was only five feet tall, but his feet were as big as a seven foot giant’s.” Simile.

In my latest mystery Over My Dead Body, I say, ” … Syd’s small, frame house, like a giant, square tumbleweed.”  Simile.  In my book A Ton of Gold, I describe a woman’s hair, ” black and shiny as obsidian.”  Simile.

Can you overdo the use of metaphor and simile? You most certainly can. They should be like the habañera: not used on everything, and not used too much. (Simile.)

Remember, one of your goals is to develop memorable characters.  Similes and metaphors can help make a character memorable. <><

Thanks, James. I hope everyone finds it very useful. James is giving away an ebook copy of Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel and also one of How to Write Great Dialog. For your chance to win one of them, leave a comment below.


After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing.  He has had four non-fiction books published.  He now concentrates on his favourite genre, mystery/suspense.  His eleventh book released in June, 2016.



Author’s page on Amazon:

Buy link for A Silver Medallion on Kindle:

Buy link for A Silver Medallion paperback:



15 thoughts on “Metaphor and Simile: What They Are and Why You Need Them by James R. Callan

  1. Thanks James for this interesting insight in creating characters for novels that I will use some of your advice in my next book.

  2. I love both similes and metaphors – similes are much easier to write, I find, but metaphors, when used well, are amazing to read and ponder.

    Thanks for sharing your journey of success with us and including such wisdom!

    Thank you for reading,

    Sarah Butland
    author of Life Imitated

    • Thanks for dropping in, Sarah. I agree, when used well, they are amazing and can create such vivid pictures in the readers’ mind. Great way to “show, don’t tell.”

    • Sarah, you are absolutely right on both counts. Metaphors can have a greater impact – but they are harder to work in smoothly. That’s life – the best is rarely the easiest. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Agreed they are both so important, and sometimes hard to create. Would love to read your books. Thanks for sharing and explaining it so well.

  4. Good morning and congratulations to our 2 winners. Sarah and Theresa, you have each won an ebook copy of James R Callan’s book. He will be in touch with you.

    Thanks for dropping in. Keep watching for more great tips, advice, and winning. Until next time, be blessed.

    Renee-Ann <

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