Similes and Metaphors: The Algorithms of the Novel by Precarious Yates

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Algorithm. It’s a word that’s thrown around a lot lately. Basically, an algorithm is a way to sort things, or, rather, the best way to sort things. It’s a very math-y and sciency term. So how on earth could a novel have an algorithm?

The last time I wrote for Grace & Faith Authors, I wrote about how similes and metaphors dance in the reader’s mind. I approached the subject from a very artsy standpoint. Yet in that article I used a mathematical term. I called similes and metaphors the highest common denominator in writing.

Several days after I wrote that post, I watched a documentary on algorithms. The narrator used the same term when describing how mathematicians and computer programmers establish an algorithm: they find the highest common denominator.

So of course my brain began ticking, searching for the similarities between the two ideas.

When the brain can quickly make associations between what is new and what is familiar, memory paths to the new are established at a faster rate. We always think of how to make our writing more memorable, prompting readers to search for our next book. How do we do this? The secret is to make associations with what is already familiar. And not just something familiar, but something delightfully new within the familiar. If this is the case, similes and metaphors need to be the hammer and drill of our description toolbox, some of the most employed techniques we use when we write. But at the same time, we must be careful.

In my last article, I spelled out some guidelines for similes. Unless it’s an extremely emotional scene, no more that two similes should coexist in the same 300-500 words. If it’s an extremely emotional scene, no more than three similes should be employed in the same 300-500 words. Any more than that and the similes start to stand out more than the story.

Metaphors and metaphorical words can be sprinkled far more generously.

If similes and metaphors are not unique, if they are regurgitated ideas (i.e., “my stomach somersaulted at the sight of him…”) it’s the same as stripping a screw while trying to drive it in. Clichés will destroy our novel’s best intentions.

As stated, similes and metaphors fit inside the description toolbox, and too much description can slow the pace of any story. At the same time, just enough description sweeps the reader further in.

If we add similes and metaphors in throughout the story, we create lots of memory building portals for our readers. And those readers who enjoy the memories will come back for more. Happy readers make happy authors. It’s just science. 🙂

May God richly bless your writing journey!

Precarious Yates

About the Author:

Precarious YatesPrecarious Yates has lived in 8 different states of the Union and 3 different countries, but currently lives in Texas with her husband, her daughter and their big dogs. When she’s not writing, she enjoys music, teaching, playing on jungle gyms, praying and reading. She holds a Masters in the art of making tea and coffee and a PhD in Slinky® disentangling.


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