Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My book on character development, Character: The Heart of the Novel, was published by Oak Tree Press in 2013. The main theme of the book was: Create memorable characters. Here are two ways to help in that endeavor.  

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).” 

What do I mean by metaphors and similes in fiction, and how do they work? 

“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. You are 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.

“Wally’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. 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 could 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.  Her passion was as deep as the ocean. Simile.  His ego was an aircraft carrier. Metaphor. His wealth was like the Empire State Building, and his charity was a mustard seed. Simile and then metaphor.

Can you overdo the use of metaphor and simile? You most certainly can. They should be like the habaƱera: not used on everything, and not used too much. (Simile.)  But these are important tools for the writer. Don’t ignore them.

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

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 wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published four non-fiction books.  He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mysteries, with his sixth book releasing in Spring, 2014.


Amazon Author page: http://amzn.to/1eeykvG
Twitter: @jamesrcallan


  1. Thanks, Delia. We all know about metaphors and similes - but sometimes it helps to be reminded to use them.


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