Many of the similes used in everyday speech have been used again and again, so there is no element of surprise:
When he saw the ghost he turned as white as a sheet.
I looked into the cupboard but it was as black as ink.
Whether we are writers, teachers of writing, or both, our job must be to develop the element of surprise wherever we can. James Joyce in The Dubliners writes of ‘…a goods train winding out of Kingsbridge, like a worm with a fiery head winding through the darkness…’
In my sessions with young writers I often ask them to take a well known simile and stretch it till it says something new. As slow as a snail could become as slow as a snail pushing a brick. Make a giraffe even taller by stretching as tall as a giraffe to as tall as a giraffe on stilts.
Other comparisons might be:
As weird as a dandelion clock saying ‘tick-tock’.
As slow as a farmer pushing his tractor up a steep hill.
As fast as a cheetah on roller skates.
As unhappy as a shoe being worn by a smelly foot.
I often ask young writers to develop these ideas into a poem which builds on one stretched simile after another. I ask them to choose an animal and turn it into a super creature. Some alliteration can be effective here – my crazy crocodile, my magnificent maggot, my fantastic flamingo.
I always start with a class poem which will act as a model for anyone wishing to follow it, but also emphasise that anyone wishing to adapt the model and take off in another direction should feel free to do so.
Think of a first line, perhaps to do with the creature’s size.
My terrifying tortoise is as heavy as a hippo lifting weights
and as long as the Channel Tunnel.
Then think of its strength and speed:
It is as strong as a weightlifter holding aloft the Eiffel Tower
and as fast as Usain Bolt with rocket boosters.
How noisy is it?
It is as noisy as a howler monkey screeching into a microphone.
We then carry on adding to the poem by thinking about what the creature eats and drinks or how much it eats and drinks. Does it have any special features – claws, wings, a tail? Is it fierce or friendly? Does it need protection or does it protect you?
My Huge Hamster
My huge hamster is as big as an elephant with a pork belly
and as strong as a shark using its tail to lift up the Houses of Parliament.
It’s as tall as a twelve storey building on tiptoe
and as heavy as a brick-eating bull.
It is as fierce as a snake when it is bored
and as fast as a cheetah riding a motorbike.
It is as noisy as a lion in a rock band
and as greedy as a panda that’s been starved for days.
It is as funky as a chimpanzee in a disco
and is mine, mine, mine.
In his book Moon-Whales, Ted Hughes has poems that can provide models and inspiration for further imagination-stretching pieces about space creatures. The Snail of the Moon has a wail ‘…as though something had punctured him. Moon-Heads are ‘shining like lamps and light as balloons’ and Moon-Witches are ‘…looking exactly like cockroaches’.
Again find alliterative titles – The Jaguars of Jupiter, the Slithering Snakes of Saturn, the Voles of Venus. This time as well as describing these creatures in colourful language, think of how they interact with others. Do the Monkeys of Mercury visit the Pythons of Pluto or fight with the Newts of Neptune.
Alternatively, come back to Earth again and find nasty creatures in the local environment – the Ogre of Oswestry, the Terrifying Troll of Tring or the Dreadful Dragon of Dorchester…
The Dreadful Dragon of Dorchester
Was as plump as and old oak and tall as a willow.
His footstep was an earthquake,
a mountain was his pillow.
Brian Moses has been a professional children’s poet since 1988. To date he has over 220 books published including volumes of his own poetry such as Lost Magic and I Thought I Heard a Tree Sneeze anthologies such as The Secret Lives of Teachers and the recently published The Best Ever Book of Funny Poems and picture books such as Walking With My Iguana and Dreamer. Over 1 million copies of Brian’s poetry books have now been sold.