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How To Write a Strong Simile with Examples from Poetry

A simile is a figure of speech that compares two things. The hallmark way to spot a simile is by its use of “like” or “as,” which sets it apart from a metaphor. Similes are widely used by writers and artists alike to create descriptive content with depth and emotional impact. They can be light-hearted or heavy-hitting, depending on the message. The mark of a strong simile is its ability to draw out an emotion or experience with strong and memorable comparisons and clear purpose. Let’s discuss some key points when setting out to write a strong simile with some examples to guide our writing.


1. Highlight deep emotions and experiences through your similes. 


Similes increase the emotional depth of a poem, especially when the poet is passionate about the topic at hand. It’s no surprise that similes have frequently been used to describe romance and falling in love. Robert Burns’ poem “A Red, Red Rose” is a great example of conveying emotion through a strong simile:


“O my Luve is like a red, red rose

   That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melody

   That’s sweetly played in tune.”


Burns’ use of floral and melodic imagery brings this sweet piece to life as readers share in theh author’s perspective on love. He illustrates the soft and soothing aspects of romance through complementary comparisons that strengthen the emotional effect of his words. 


As you begin to formulate your own similes, allow Burns’ style to serve as inspiration. When you choose a topic for your poem, work in similes that bring the reader into the emotion that you’re conveying, just as Burns does so seamlessly in this piece. 


2. Be purposeful with your simile’s comparisons. 


The best similes draw the reader in with their depth and intentionality. In the poem “Harlem,” Langston Hughes uses profound, contrasting imagery as he reflects on a question he poses to the readers. Right from the first line, Hughes engages readers with his intentional use of simile that engages the senses and increases the overall impact of the piece.


“What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?”


Hughes creates a deeper and more profound experience with his intentional wording designed to evoke specific, visceral emotions. We can follow his example by considering what our vision is for a given poem and how we can best illustrate it through purposeful and detailed imagery. 


3. Practice, Practice, Practice.


Similes are everywhere you look. They are used in songs, poetry, nursery rhymes—the list goes on. Remembering their characteristic use of the words “like” and “as,” spend some time looking for examples on websites you visit or in books you read. Take inventory of the similes you see. What makes them strong? What kind of emotions do they bring out in you? Are they memorable? Do they complement the speaker’s topic well? 


Once you’ve sourced a variety of similes, draw upon the most impactful ones for inspiration. What do you like about the way they are organized and the overall experience they provide for the reader? This type of exercise can be a useful way to familiarize yourself with the power of a good simile as you explore a variety of styles, tones, and approaches.


A good simile is like a camera that captures the essence of your writing at the best angle and in the best light. Allow purposeful contrasts and powerful imagery to set your simile up for success. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.