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!

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