Stronger Writing–Strong Verbs, Similes or Metaphor?

The question arises, “When do I use a strong verb? When a simile? When a metaphor?”

The answer is one you will have to discover for yourself as you wrestle with your writing.  Do you prefer, “The quails waltzed across the road” or “The quails waltzed across the road like Viennese dancers,” or “The quails were Viennese dancers as they waltzed across the road”?  The latter two introduce the concept of Vienna which could either add to your writing or detract from it. I don’t know about you, but when I read “Vienna,” I think, “whipped cream.” The question is whether you want me to think, “whipped cream.”

If I were choosing among the three examples above, I’d consider what I was trying to accomplish in the writing.  If I wanted to focus on the wildlife, I’d probably go with the strong verb. If I were going to develop a travel piece, I might well include the second example, the simile.

Remember, sometimes when you are trying to think of a strong verb or a particularly inventive noun, you may make more progress by expanding your thinking to develop possible similes and metaphors.

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Stronger Writing–Metaphors

Our friends at define metaphor as:

a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance, as in “A mighty fortress is our god.” Compare mixed metaphor, simile ( def. 1 ) .

something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else; emblem; symbol.
Unlike a simile, which states one thing is like another,  a metaphor states something is another thing which it is not actually.  “I am a walrus” is one example since, presumably a human is not also a walrus.
Metaphors also create an environment in which the remainder of the writing abides, but they can sometimes require a greater leap of imagination than strong verbs and similes.

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Stronger Writing–Similes

While you may be tempted to read “smiles” in the title above, the word is “simile,” which defines as



a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared, as in “she is like a rose.” Compare metaphor.

an instance of such a figure of speech or a use of words exemplifying it.
In other words, the author writes that one thing is like another.  “O my Luve’s like a red, red, rose., that’s newly sprung in June. . .”
Remember the post “Better Verbs = Better Writing?”  There I mentioned that verbs create an environment in which the remainder of the writing lives.  I analogized to the way a particular color seems to change when placed against one color versus another.  Similes also create an environment to surround the other writing of a paragraph or a description, for example, of a person.
Burns’s simile leads the reader to tie together the ideas of “red,” “very red (“red, red”),” “rose,”  “my Luve,” “newly sprung” (he’s obviously not talking about a woman of a certain age), and June.  The entire simile brings to mind a beautiful young woman who is fresh and vibrant.  But compare that last sentence with Burns’s simile.  Burns says more.
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Rainy Day in Paris, Part 7

While I might have been tempted to linger at Shakespeare and Company, apparently every expat in Paris had the idea to take refuge from the rain there. You could barely move among the stacks and damp rose from every raincoat and soaked shoe.  We bought a collection of short stories about children and an in expensive paperback edition of Julian Barnes’ Nothing to Be Afraid Of”, and had them both stamped “Shakespeare & Company Kilometer Zero Paris” (a medallion embedded in the pavement in front of Notre Dame announces itself as “Kilometer Zero,” the point from which all distances are measured in France. Shakespeare & Company’s assertion of its position at “Kilometer Zero” is off by a couple of hundred yards).   Armed with reading material for the next few days, we emerged, with no further plans, into the rain.

A glance across the Seine at the lengthy line waiting to enter Notre Dame told us what other tourists in Paris were planning to do. We both had good rain coats and umbrellas so we decided to wander in the rain.

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Rainy Day in Paris, Part 6

So, after lunch at Christophe’s, we headed north toward the Seine and Shakespeare & Company, the namesake of the English language bookstore Ernest Hemingway immortalized in A Moveable Feast.  Across the Seine from Notre Dame, on the Left Bank, Shakespeare & Company would be at home in Columbia, Missouri, or Iowa City. Surely it’s a rented structure–no money seems to have been spent on its upkeep for at least fifty years.  The flooring seems to be a combination of recent tile and ancient Roman mosaics. Books, new and used, are crammed into every corner, some so far overhead no one can read their titles. Selections included almost everything from The Audacity of Hope to an Everyman Library edition of The Essays of Elia, though, mysteriously, no thrillers or mystery books. An upstairs reading room, crammed with hundreds of books that, a sign on the ancient stairway announces, are not for sale, includes both an alcove with a typewriter and a separate alcove with a small bed on which a blue jeans and sweater clad young woman napped.

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Rainy Day in Paris, Part 5

One deficiency of all the guide books we have is none of them specify what to do in Paris in the rain.  We’d known the evening before that Paris was to be rainy and had checked all the books. No suggestions at all (other than an amusing internet notation involving the Moulin Rouge, a woman wearing not much more than eyeliner, and a water tank containing a couple of anacondas who clearly wanted to escape both the tank and the woman). We’d thought about the museums, but Paris museums are crowded anyway, and we knew they’d be more crowded on a Sunday (the French do seem to appreciate their patrimony). Once we learned the museums were free on the first Sunday of each month (as the next day would be), we knew we’d avoid them.

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Rainy Day in Paris, Part 4

Shortly after we received our starters, in walked the “older” couple! They had reservations so presumably had been for a stroll before directing us to what was apparently a restaurant they either already knew or perhaps intended to try. Maybe we were a test case—they waited until we’d had several bites before entering.

More and more people followed and soon all the tables were full. The table for six was taken by a group obviously genetically connected. My guess, based on looks, the delight at seeing each other as indicated by the repeated cheek kissing and the seating arrangement, was a father and mother, their son and two daughters and the mother of the mother.

We ended the meal with a chocolate mousse intense enough to substitute for rocket fuel and tumbled out into the still damp Paris afternoon around 2:45.

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Rainy Day in Paris, Part 3

Reservations for a completely empty restaurant? Was he trying to fool us into thinking the restaurant maintained its former fame?

We murmured, “Non.” He seemed not unhappy at our response and indicated we had our choice of tables.

We surveyed the space. There were perhaps ten tables for two. Three were ganged together to seat six. Several were coupled into seatings for four. We chose a table near the rear of the butter and salmon colored room. I sat so I faced the windows and Duane had a view directly into the closet sized kitchen.

Another man brought us a menu. While no good meal in France is cheap, lunch is a relative bargain. We could have a three course meal for 19 euros ($30). Duane chose the lobster bisque to start. I had the Basque sausage in spring roll (yes, a spring roll wrapper such as you would see in a Chinese restaurant). We both had l’onglet of flank steak (l’onglet apparently meaning “big tasty medium rare chunk of beef) with haricort verts (it would, indeed, be a misservice to call them “green beans).

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Rainy Day in Paris, Part 2

Clearly we looked like what we were—lost American tourists. A French couple strolled by. I am tempted to call them “older,” he had gray hair, hers was white, but I suspect they were only about five years than Duane and I. “May I help you?” asked the man. “Yes,” I said as Duane said, “No.”  I went on, “We’re looking for number 8, Christophe restaurant.” “Ah,” said the man, “It is over there.” He pointed to a wall of windows without a sign, an awning, a hint that it was Christophe. The only suggestions it might be number 8 was its share of the Hurling Pub’s green paint and, once you noticed the small display case by the door, a menu headed “Christophe.”

The small restaurant was completely empty. Though we knew we were early by Parisian standards, it was 12:30. Was Pudlo mistaken? Had the restaurant fallen from grace in the years since it was published? Despite these questions, we entered the restaurant to be greeted by a genial giant of a young man who inquired if we had reservations

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Rainy Day in Paris, Part 1

We awoke to Paris in the rain.  Out the door by the crack of 11:30 after a light, in-room breakfast of orange juice, bread and Roquefort, we set off in search of one of Pudlo’s “Personal Favorites” restaurants,  a one man show named “Christophe.”

Paris is like San Diego in that once you master the diagonal modes of movement (via sidewalk in Paris; via multi-lane highways in San Diego), you can maneuver the city quickly.  With gusts of wind threatening to turn our umbrellas inside out, we walked toward the Seine to the Pantheon, the national burial site for the heroes (almost exclusively—the only female is Marie Curie) of France.  A few blocks later, we’d found the street for which we searched, one aptly named one in the neighborhood of the Sorbonne—Descartes. But which way to turn on Descartes? We walked down one direction, straining to see street numbers. No number 8.  We walked in the other until we saw number 8—the perhaps too graphically named Hurling Pub sheathed in bright green paint.  Where was “Christophe”? We walked on, wondering perhaps if we had strayed onto another street. But, non, we were still on Descartes. Duane reached for the Pudlo, while I pulled out Paris par Arrondissement, perhaps hoping for an arrow pointing to the restaurant.

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