If you’re trying to convey just how loud, fast, large or small something is, try to compare it to something the reader can easily imagine.
- A spider is as large as the base of a baked bean can.
- When the cat was lying down it was roughly the length of a cricket bat.
- The baby she was holding was about the size and weight of a watermelon
These comparisons really help the reader “see” and “feel” the size and weight of what you’re trying to describe. Most things – whether it’s a spider, cat or baby – can vary hugely in size. So it helps the reader to have a more accurate image if you compare it to something that doesn’t vary in shape and size all that much.
Try and make your similes slightly unusual, or incongruous. Your writing will be much more fun and interesting if you use some creative juxtaposition and hyperbole.
“The battered old briefcase was placed on the desk. Its scuffed brown leather looked like the skin of an old sunbather and, as she placed it on the clear glass, she thought how it looked like an ancient artefact being taken out for inspection.”
The comparison of the leather to sun-damaged skin helps to convey the detail of the colour and texture of the case, while the contrasts between the old and new (the glass Vs the briefcase, the sunbather Vs the woman etc) help the reader to create a clear image of the scene.
Incongruous comparisons help to set a tone, usually of intrigue. When you’re revising, try to practice being deliberately incongruous by contrasting things in your descriptions that woludn’t normally go together.
Oxymorons and paradoxes can also be very effective tools:
- The silence was deafening.
- He was an honest thief.
- It was beautifully ugly.
Avoid clichés or your writing will become predicatable and boring. Instead, show the examiner you’re an independent thinker and that you can write with originality.
Here are some examples of clichés that are sure to turn your examiner off:
- Frightened to death
- Quiet before the storm
- Old as the hills
- Fit as a fiddle
- Nerves of steel
“As the train hurtled towards the station at full speed, the brakes screamed desperately – the sound of a Prima Donna about to smash a bulb with her voice. Hot smoke billowed as the friction heated up, releasing the smell of burning rubber. The train alarm sounds – a deafening whistle like a thousand kettles sounding at once – before carriages knock into themselves so that the train becomes a giant mechanical caterpillar, curling up as it makes its way forward.”
You’ll notice in this example a semantic field of panic and alarm, created by the words: scream, smash, heated, burning. It’s an appropriate semantic field, given the context of a train crash. So when you create a semantic field, think about what mood you want to create. How do you want the reader to feel?
happy / melancholic / nostalgic / sombre etc?
Make sure you pick the right connotations from your word class choices to create the right mood and atmosphere.
A good acronym to remember these techniques is POSH JAM