Writer’s Toolbox

Ask The Writer

Your most pressing and perplexing questions about writing answered here by Gotham teacher Brandi Reissenweber.

Can a story have too many comparisons?

Comparisons can be meaningful and encourage the reader to engage with complex ideas on an imagistic level. Still, overuse can be, as the saying goes, too much of a good thing. A tumble of comparisons may prevent the reader from feeling grounded in the setting or action of the story. They may send the reader in directions that lead away from the story’s intention. They may even bring in imagery that confuses instead of enhances the description. For example:

It was ten o’clock and Felicia was sitting at the bar sweating like a pig. She had no idea why Vivian looked like she just saw a ghost. Felicia bit the inside of her cheek and waited, like it was prom night and her date was a half an hour late. She’d had too many drinks. Her thoughts shifted like a tilt-a-whirl.

The images take the reader all over the place—a farm, the supernatural world, high school prom and a carnival. What’s the reader supposed to make of that?

Comparisons invite the reader to consider an idea with more depth. Strong attention to too many ideas can leave the reader fatigued and unclear as to what’s really important in the passage.

I can’t give you a set ratio of comparisons to quantity of pages. So much depends on the specific details of your story and the execution of the comparisons. So, consider what each comparison accomplishes. Does it illuminate a complex or foggy idea? Does it give emotional weight or significance to something that warrants it? If not, lose it to make room in the story—and your reader’s imagination—for the ones that do.