Thoughts on Writing: Clichés vs. Strange Metaphors and Similes

As writers, we’ve been warned so many times to avoid clichés that it’s become ingrained in us to avoid them like the plague. 😉 As a result, writers turn formulate some truly ingenious and clever metaphors. Some of them have me thinking, “I wish I’d come up with that!” An example I can think of off the top of my head is from one of the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:

Harry put his face into his hands, blocking out his bedroom, trying to hold on to the picture of that dimly lit room, but it was like trying to keep water in his cupped hands; the details were now trickling away as fast he tried to hold on to them….

When I first read it, I remember thinking how unique it was. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (I believe), there is a line about Harry feeling like he’s missed a step on the stairs. Most everyone knows how that feels can immediate relate to Harry.

However, sometimes the unique metaphor/simile doesn’t work and throws me out of the story. Even though I’m a huge fan of Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices trilogy, I still remember when I read her book City of Bones and there was a line that went something like, “the moon hung in the sky like a locket.” That immediately pulled me out because I had to stop and think about it. I realize I may be in the minority to have that opinion about that particular comparison.

In Graham Moore’s The Sherlockian, he writes:

The New Scotland Yard hummed along pleasantly in the morning like a gigantic scientific experiment. Identically uniformed constables streamed in and out of the front gate and up into the five-story as if they were tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide in a great bunsen burner.

Sometimes metaphors and similes don’t quite land. While it’s important not to use clichés, I think it’s also important not to overdo them to the point where they feel jarring. They should paint the scene while still staying consistent with the rest of the writing!


Snippet Saturday #11 Reverie (Part 6)

“Get up!” A hand yanks me up painfully. I look for the source of the hand and see Jude. “We have to get the hell out of here!”

I try to tell him that I’m already in hell but my mouth won’t open. My feet won’t move, either, which he seems to realize with increasing frustration.

Finally, he sweeps me up into his arms and runs, ending with a jump that launches us into the air and onto the top of a building. He sets me down and bends over, hands on his knees. His breathing is heavy.

“It’ll be a while before the Nightwalkers find us up here,” he says.

The pill is still in my hand, starting to feel sticky from my body’s warmth. How is it possible that my body can still have warmth when Graham’s doesn’t?

“Piper,” Jude says, kneeling beside me. “I know this is hard, and you might think I’m asking too much of you, but I need you to do something.”

I just look at him. My mind is as empty as my heart.

“When did you first meet Graham?” he asks me. When I don’t answer, he says, “You never actually met him, did you?”

Anger slices through my numbness. “Of course I did! We’re engaged.”

I hold up my left hand, but the engagement ring is gone. I look around desperately. How could it have fallen off without me noticing it?

“Okay, you met,” he says. “But where? When?”

I try to think about it, but I can’t. I can’t because it’s too painful. I can’t think about Graham just yet. Instead, I shake my head.

“Tell me,” he says, putting his hands on my shoulders.

My cheeks are wet.

“I–I–,” I struggle to think back.

I remember Graham in our house. I remember kissing him. I remember going out into the Milky Way for our first date, even though that really is more appropriate for the first anniversary. I remember every facet of a relationship as perfect as the diamond on the ring I lost–completely unmarred.

But when I try to remember the day we met or how any of this began, the memory proves to be elusive. I feel like it’s there, but I can’t quite get a hold of it.

“You can’t, can you?”

“I can.” I force my mind back so fiercely that my head begins to pound. I screw my eyes shut, envisioning the moment. And then– “I remember! We met the day after both of us first got hit by the Insomnia Epidemic.We were in line at the Somnology Institute. It was the day before…it was the day before the Nightwalkers first appeared.”

I shake myself free of Jude’s grip and look at him triumphantly, but he isn’t even looking at me. His contemplative gaze is on the floor. Just like that, the feeling of triumph fades away, carving out a hollow inside of me. Remembering when and where I first met Graham does nothing to bring him back to me.

“Right before the Nightwalkers first appeared,” Jude says. “Can’t you see now that this is a dream?”

I don’t believe him but I’m getting frustrated with his constant claims that it is. Graham is gone, and Jude still won’t let go of his stupid ideas or his stupid need to push them on me.

“Fine!” I snap. “So maybe this is a dream. So what? Is there really anything wrong with that? What do you have against dreams anyway?”

“Dreams are a wonderful thing,” he says. “I have nothing against them. Dream all you want. It’s just when you start living in them that the problem starts.”

I sniffle. “Why are you telling me all this?”

I know he has nothing to do with the sleeping pill shortage, but since this trouble started the day I met him, I can’t help blaming him. I need someone to blame because otherwise I won’t know where to place the emotions that are welling up within me.

“Because the Nightwalkers came from you,” he says seriously. “They’re born from your mind, which means only you can stop them.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I say, backing away as he reaches out toward me. “I would never create such horrible creatures. Did you not see what just happened? They killed Graham. They took him away from me.”

Now I’m sobbing.

“You wouldn’t create them consciously, but your subconscious can do so much without your permission,” he says.

“Just get away from me and stay away,” I warn him. “My life was perfectly great until you can along, and now my fiancé is dead.”

I turne around to see a candy cane coming off the side of the building. Wrapping my legs around it, I slide down. As soon as I hit the ground, the burns on my collarbone and forehead twinge. I can feel the cold ground through the holes in my shoes.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Snippet Saturday is my chance to share bits and pieces of my writing.

Snippet Saturday #10 Reverie (Part 5)

The voice startles me to a stop, although I don’t let go of Graham’s hand. Jude stands there. He glances at Graham but returns his gaze to me.

“What are you doing here?” I demand. “Why aren’t you home? Are you homeless?”

“I knew you would go,” he says. “I saw you have only one pill left.”

“It isn’t for me,” I say. “It’s for Graham. He’s all out of pills.”

“Good,” Jude says.

I want to scream at him, but before I can, Graham is there. His fist flies forward, catching Jude in the cheek–hard enough that Jude falls onto his back.

“Good?” Graham repeats, shaking ou his hand. “This is my life we’re talking about!”

“Jude,” I say, before he can retaliate, “you’re out of pills, aren’t you? Come with us. You can get an emergency pill for yourself.”

Jude shakes his head, standing up and wincing as he presses his jaw to his cheek. “I won’t, and you shouldn’t either. Don’t you see? The pills are the cause of all this.”

“All what?” Graham says. “If you haven’t noticed, the pills have cured the Insomnia Epidemic. They protect us from the Nightwalkers. What more do you want?”

“The pills are all wrong,” Jude says, walking beside us as Graham tugs me along. “If it weren’t for the pills, there would be no Nightwalkers.”

“That makes no sense,” Graham says coldly.

“I can’t blame him because I’m furious too. How dare Jude make a mockery of the pills? They’re the most important thing in our world. We would be lost without them.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Jude says and abruptly stops walking.

I glance back toward him, but Graham doesn’t slow his pace, causing me to stumble.

“Sorry,” Graham says, breathing hard.

Although I don’t remember the walk to the mansion-like, cream-colored building of the Somnology Institute, we’re there almost immediately. People are already beginning to gather, but the line doesn’t seem too long. Graham glances at me with a smile crossing his face before hurrying toward the end of the line.

Something hot swings out of nowhere, catching me in the head and tossing me painfully to the ground. The grip between Graham’s hand and mine is broken. He spins around, eyes widening in shock. A Nightwalker looms over me, its arms held above its head. It might look comical if I didn’t know if could kill me.

Out of habit, I reach for the pill bottle and then remember there’s only one left. Does this count as enough of an emergency? And what about Graham?

Two more Nightwalkers come up by Graham and grab his arms. He whips his head around desperately, looking at them both but doesn’t even dare try to break their grip. Desperation throws me into motion. I kick out at the Nightwalker above me. The blackened bones shatter but also burn through the soles of my shoes. Ignoring the hot bone shards raining over me, I leap to my feet and toss my pill bottle to Graham.

He catches it, even though the Nightwalkers still hold onto his arm. He pries open the lid and gets ready to pour it into his mouth…and stops. His eyes turn to me.

A thin stream of blood comes right down the center of his lower lip. Slowly, he sinks to his knees and tumbles forward. The pill flies out of the open bottle and lands at my feet. Behind him stands a third Nightwalker, holding Graham’s bloody heart in his skeletal fingers.

My legs collapse beneath me. I pick up the pill, struggling to process what just happened. But at the same time, I don’t want to. I don’t want to understand because this can’t be. Not Graham. All I can do is stare at Graham’s prone body, at the gaping hole in his back. Just hours ago, I was talking about our wedding. Not Graham.

All three of the Nightwalkers bear upon me. The Nightwalker I kicked reassembles itself and joins its friends. They come toward me menacingly. The pill is still in my fingers but I can’t even imagine taking it. I toy with the idea of letting them get me. If Graham is no longer here, what do I even have to live for?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Snippet Saturday is my chance to share bits and pieces of my writing.

Snippet Saturday #9 Reverie (Part 4)

Dovie lifts back into the air and flies a little longer, depositing me onto the side of a cliff. Dark blue and black butterflies flutter overhead, raining drops of absinthe onto me. I close my eyes and open my mouth, feeling the green fairy burn on my tongue. I walk along the cliff, watching a woman jump off the side with her arms outstretched. She does this every night, choosing to die instead of sleep and crawling out of the ocean with the sun.

I continue to the edge of the cliff and walk off. The cliff face opens up for me, carving itself into a staircase, slick and salty from the licks of seawater. The stairs continue down, down, down until the waves are over my head. And still I keep going, until the darkness is vanquished by silver light pooling like a bridge that leads me to a straw hut sitting on the surface of  the water. I emerge, completely dry, and enter my home.

Graham stands there, his back to me, watching as a whale breaches in the distance, sending ripples of purple, starlit water crashing toward us. The Milky Way is thick in the sky, and the stars no longer sing a warning but a beautiful song of love just for us.

As he turns around and smiles at me, starlight touches his hair and forms a halo. I shove thoughts of Jude out of my mind and pretend I can drown those thoughts in the ocean before crossing the room into Graham’s arms. He kisses me deeply so I can feel his love and concern to my toes.

“You’re late,” he says. “I was worried.”

“Sorry,” I say. “I ran into some Nightwalkers.”

The words come out a little boastfully. Nobody wants to run into Nightwalkers, but running into them and surviving brings with it a sense of courage and honor.

Graham hugs me close to his body. I feel the muscles of his chest and abdomen shift as his lungs expand and deflate with each breath. As I often am, I’m overcome with the fact of Graham’s beauty and the idea that he is mine and mine alone. I close my eyes and see a flash of violet eyes.

I shake myself mentally. Graham has green eyes. I can’t think of crazy, violet-eyed Jude right now. To prove to myself–and to Jude, even though he isn’t here to see me or hear me–that meeting Jude meant absolutely nothing, I tell Graham about what happened.

His eyebrows pucker. “He sounds crazy. I don’t think I want you seeing him again.”

“Don’t worry,” I say. “I don’t think I want to see him again.”

Graham laughs–a sound that always warms me from inside out. We got to watch the news as we do every night. After a story about an adult leopard-spotted zebra shrinking back into a baby, the news shifts to a more serious story.

“Today the Somnology Institute held a press conference to announce an official shortage of sleeping pills.”

The scene cuts from the anchorwoman to a clip of the press conference. The Somnologist stands at a podium, speaking into a rattlesnake’s tail.

“As a result of a shortage of some of the ingredients required to make the sleeping pill, we are currently unable to manufacture any more. We urge the citizens not to panic, as we will begin production as soon as we get a shipment of the required materials. This may take several months. For now, we ask that citizens hold onto their remaining pills and only take them in case of emergency. If you are completely out of pills, please come and see us for one emergency pill.”

The scene cuts back to the anchorwoman.”Because resources are limited, the Somnology Institute recommends you go as early as possible if you need a refill.”

I turn to Graham. A shortage of sleeping pills? This had never happened before. I think of the lonely pill in my bottle. Thank the Great Fox I didn’t take it tonight. Then I think of Jude and how he said he doesn’t have any sleeping pills left. I wonder if he was lying or if he really is without.

Graham’s eyes are wide and terrified.

“We have to hold onto our pills.” I squeeze his arms. “It’ll be okay.”

Maybe he and I can pool our pills together. I know it’s a little unfair since I’m only contributing one and he’s contributing the rest, but once they are able to start producing pills again, I can pay him back. In any case, we’re nearly married.

“Piper,” he says, “I don’t have any pills left. I took the last one tonight.”

I stare at him for a moment, not understanding. Then the words register. I jump to my feet. “We have to get you an emergency pill.”

“Right now?” he says, glancing out the window.

I follow his gaze to the jellyfish moon. “Yes, right now. I know it’s night, but you heard what they said. What if the pills are all gone by the morning?”

“Yeah, you’re right,” he says, standing up and wiping his palms on his thighs.

I take his hand, and we hurry out of our house, back up the cliff.

“You can’t go.”

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Snippet Saturday is my chance to share bits and pieces of my writing.

Snippet Saturday #8 Reverie (Part 3)

The violet-eyed guy is behind me, his arms around my waist.

“Well done,” he says.

I’m pleased at the hint of approval to his voice. Then I’m instantly irritated at myself for feeling pleased by his approval.

I reach my arms out and throw my head back, pretending I’m the one flying. I should really try it one day.

“There’s a reason I came to you today,” he says. I feel his voice vibrate through his chest and into my back. “It’s important.”

“Who are you?” I call back to him.

It’s hard to hear over the chilly air flowing around us and freezing my ears and nose.

“I’m Jude,” he says.

“Jude who?”

“Piper who?” he says back.

I’m about to ask him how he knows my name when I realize that if he was looking for me, obviously he already has an idea of who I am–even if I’m not sure how he knows me.

“Does our world seem strange to you, Piper?” he says when I don’t answer.

“Strange how?”

“The Nightwalkers. The fact that we’re sitting on a dove’s back. The walls of the buildings–they were Jell-o one moment and marshmallow the next. Doesn’t this strike you as strange?”

I unfurl my fingers, letting the air flow between them, unconcerned by his words.

“This is our world. This is the way it’s always been.”

“Tell me this,” he says, tightening his grip around me slightly as Dovie dips down. “What comes after elephant o’clock?”

“Do you think I’m a child?” I say, turning my head sideways to scowl at him as best as I can through profile. “Of course it’s seashell o’clock.”

“How’s that possible?” Jude leans forward against my back and speaks directly into my ear. I bend away from him, right into Dovie’s soft feathers. “How can we only have hours? What ever happened to minutes and seconds?”

“What and what?” I said, although something like a memory flickers inside my mind. “Stop trying to confuse me.”

“Reality is cracking,” he says. “It’s splintering, letting in dreams. The dream world and the real world are melting together. It’s affecting all of our memories. Up until now, it’s only been our city, but it’s spreading like a disease.”

“Why are you telling me this?” As I suspected, he’s completely out of his mind.

“Because you need to wake up.” His voice is so soft now that I can barely hear him.

“I am awake,” I say. “You think I can’t tell the difference between when I’m sleeping and awake?”

“Not anymore–not since they became one and the same,” he says. “You have to believe me.”

A hint of desperation hitches his voice. He sounds so sincere and so sad that something in me wants to believe him. I quickly remind myself that I don’t have time for any sort of nonsense.

“I don’t have time for this,” I tell him. “I have more important things to think about right now.”

“Like what?”

“Like my wedding.” I admired the engagement ring on my left hand. The diamond echoes the song of the stars.

“Your wedding.” He repeats it in a whisper as soft as a breath. I feel it against the back of my neck.

“Yes. I’m getting married on a cloud. I booked it way in advance so nobody would have it that day. You know how popular the clouds are, right?”

“Oh, really?” There’s amusement in his voice. “What if the sky is clear that day?”

I have nothing to say to that, so my voice is stiff as I say, “Of course it won’t be. Okay, where should we drop you off?”

He leans to the side, so far that I’m afraid he’ll slide right off. I remind myself it isn’t my business to worry about him, but I grab his arms around my waist and anchor them there anyway.

“Right here’s good,” he says. I press my fingers into Dovie’s neck, and she dives to reach the ground. He slides off and says, “Goodbye, Piper. Please try to remember what I said. Also, please stop taking the pills.”

I raise my eyebrows. He has to know what an impossible request he’s making of me.

“Goodbye, Jude.”

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Snippet Saturday is my chance to share bits and pieces of my writing.