Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 28, 2011

Making Music With Your Prose

Last week we talked about a few poetic tools you could use while writing.  Here are a few more:


This is when a writer says one thing, but actually is saying something else. Floyd Cooper speaks in metaphor in Coming Home: From the Life of Langston Hughes when he calls a train the old iron snake.


Here the writer compares one thing to another with the word like or as.  Example:  I was as mad as the bumblebee Ferdinand sat on.  My friend Eileen Spinelli is great at using similes.  Here’s one from Something to Tell the Grandcows.  Emmadine has travel to the South Pole and “Her teeth chattered like spoons.”  Or how about this one from Rupa Raises the Sun by Marsha Wilson Chall, “the sun broke across the sky like an egg yolk.”

Ann Whitford Paul says in Writing Picture Books, “We write in metaphor and simile to give the reader a visual image instead of a plain description. ”  Metaphors and Similes cut down on the words that would be necessary to describe what we want to say.  This is a great tool for the picture book writer, especially, because editors are wanting shorter and shorter picture books.  This is what Ann does when she want to create a unique, visual, and tone-perfect Metaphor or simile.  She numbers a piece of paper from 1 to 10 and then she free associates until she has 10 possibilities.  If she doesn’t like any of them, she continues 11 to 20 and keeps going until she creates one that seems perfect.  Do I hear a few groans?


With this tool we give human characteristics to something that is not human.  If I say, “The book held me in its grasp all the way to the last page.”  Everyone knows what I mean, even though books do not have arms.  How about?  “The icy finger of winter slipped down my shirt.”  Winter doesn’t have fingers.

Want to try your hand at identifying the metaphors, similes and personifications below?

1.  The moon is a bowl of breakfast cereal.

2.  I ran, but danger ran faster.

3.  Ryan didn’t want to go to Katie’s party, so he moved slow as a snail.

4.  Jacob felt like a rabbit caught in a trap.

5.  The tree is our umbrella, keeping us dry from the rain.

6.  The quilt spoke stories of love and loss.

ANSWERS:  1. Metaphor  2. Personification  3. Simile  4. Simile  5. Metaphor  6. Personification

HOMEWORK:  Now pull out that same manuscript from last week and read it through again.  Did you use any of theses techniques?  Do you see a place where you could use one of these tools to make your story more interesting or maybe even cut out a few words or lines?  Give it a try.  What do you have to lose?

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I am SUCH a fan (and user) of similes,metaphors and analogies, in general 🙂 Typically, the cliches enter my mind first, but I quickly push on to discover possibilities. I don’t do it the way Ann Whitford Paul does, actually making a list, but I go from one to the next and the next ’til I like what I’ve got.

    Btw, this is at least the second time you’ve mentioned this book, Kathy, so it must be good! 🙂

    “The icy finger of winter slipped down my shirt.” Great stuff 🙂
    Thanks, Kathy!


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