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While like may be the most overused and misused word in our culture, comparison is what we desperately need to bring life to a scene. Feelings are impossible to describe directly because they lack physical description, but reference to a familiar condition lets readers know exactly what it was like.

  • What Was It Like?

For a comparison to be effective, it must fit the context of the scene. Ask yourself, If I’m the character describing this situation, what would I say? So the child cried. What was it like? Saying the character was attentive, shocked, disappointed, or surprised is a judgment, but showing what it was like lets readers create the feeling themselves.

  1. He listened like he was waiting for the rain to stop before stepping out.
  2. I folded and tucked it away like a secret treasure map.
  3. These were grown men enjoying life like ten-year-olds playing at recess.
  4. I bawled like a child who had lost his mother in the shopping mall.
  5. His expression was like someone whose full-house poker hand had been beaten by four aces.
  • How Did It Feel?

Your character felt awkward, insecure, lost, or thrilled. Deepen the feeling by showing what it was like.

  1. Casting with my left hand felt as natural as writing with my toes.
  2. Their snickering made me feel like I had forgotten to get dressed and came in my t-shirt and underwear.
  3. I felt like a kid on his first day at school, when he couldn’t find the restroom.
  4. An eagle soaring on the wind could not have been more thrilled.
  • How Did It Look?

Smiles, smirks, and grins don’t say much about the feeling behind the expression, but readers can see the picture clearly if you show what it looked like.

  1. Papa grinned like a carnival game host watching a kid throw darts and miss the balloons.
  2. He looked as tough as a scuffed boot.
  3. The kids took their seats, assigned in alphabetical order like chess pieces, obliged to occupy a particular square before the game could begin.
  4. I smiled like a kid who was sure he could race cars after the first driving lesson.
  • How Did It Smell or Sound?

The odor was bad. The preacher’s message was boring. The tires made a loud noise. Show readers what the smell and sound was like, and they will live the scene.

  1. Flying gravel pelted the bottom of the car like we were driving through a hail storm.
  2. I waited for Mom to say something, but all I heard was my sniffling and the clump-clump of the tires rolling across the brick road.
  3. I stepped over a shirtless, bearded man whose odor was strong enough to embarrass a skunk.
  4. Gasping, snorting, and chewing, Papa sounded like he had swallowed a fog horn with a broken reed.
  5. The preacher’s words sounded to me like a recitation of the Declaration of Independence.
  • How Did It Taste?

Taste is a difficult sense to describe, but showing what it tasted like can make readers’ mouths water, or they’ll wish for mouthwash.

  1. The eggs tasted the same as Albert’s cigarettes smelled.
  2. As a Louisiana native, I loved beans, but this was a bit much—about as tasteful as two servings of boiled cardboard.
  3. As the juice from the hamburger dripped down my chin and I slurped my malt, kicking Jack in the teeth tasted the best.
  4. As we caravanned through the city, I smelled burning garbage, raw sewage, and diesel smoke. I licked my lips, and the foul taste told me I should be content with dry lips.