Fresh and Crisp…
And that is my metaphor for metaphors. In other words your similes should be crisp, clean, and almost transparent when woven into your prose.
Now, I may not be the best exemplar of this, but I feel the only way to properly illustrate my point is to… well illustrate it! So, I’ll be pulling some similes from my current WIP.
The sunset turning everything pink like the whole room is reflected in rose glass…
The crimson making his blue eyes seem to glitter, like icebergs floating on scarlet waves…
Nausea ripples through me like a colossal wave pulling back into the ocean…
As you can see the “lovely” first draft versions of similies above are not perfect, but they all have a few things in common.
One, they are not cluttered with excess adjectives or adverbs. You don’t need to add “chilly” onto icebergs in EX 2 if anything the extra word would make the sentence seem clumsy or interrupt the flow of the text.
Two, they don’t go on and on. As I said in the outset a good simile should be acute and tart, a good punch that catches your attention, but is transparent enough not to disrupt the over all message. There is no need to drag out a simile through several paragraphs. Say what you mean and move on. For instance, the simile that has always stuck with me was from a book called Pucker in it, the sentence (a single sentence mind you) says “her gaze was as clear and cold as a November creek” for some reason that has always stuck with me. That one simile was a sharp defined and essential part of the book.
Speaking of essential that brings us to point number three. Don’t just add a metaphor/simile for fun. I’m guilty of this myself, but seriously, if it does nothing other than up your word count (unless your doing NANO) don’t do it. Make sure that your metaphor/simile is essential or at least helpful to your reader. It should either clarify an image or idea, or make known a new image sense or idea.
And finally, point number four. They all avoid common clichés. No one wants to read “his eyes were sky blue” or “she was as pretty as a flower”. As the author, it’s your job to create new fresh metaphors and similes that will have meaning and depth. After a descriptor is used to often it loses meaning, and thus, as in point three serves no purpose other than to up word count.
So to wrap it up keep your metaphors crisp, clean, and cliché free.