Creating Similes in News, Sports, and Feature Writing

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Creating Similes in News, Sports, and Feature Writing Robert Greenman
We are used to seeing similes in poetry, novels, short stories and essays. But similes are

found in newspaper writing, too. Although journalists use them for a variety of reasons, almost all similes in newspapers share two characteristics that you will be able to identify from this selection from The New York Times. 1) the simile is not a cliché, as, “flat as a pancake” would be, in the first example below 2) the comparison is with something any reader can quickly picture. Keeping those guidelines in mind will help you to bring similes into your own newspaper writing.

  1. HOMESTEAD, Fla. The land is as flat as a flight deck here in the Redlands.

(R.W. Apple, 11/10/97)

  1. The midafternoon sun burned like a magnifying glass in the sky.

(Robert D. McFadden, 7/5/99)

  1. Airports reopened, but few flights got out. Roads were plowed, but a million cars remained silent under the drifts. The megalopolis lay half buried, like the ruins of an ancient civilization. (Robert D. McFadden 1/1/01)

  1. AHMEDAABAD, India, Jan. 27 – The floors of the school are stacked on top of one another like four thick slices of bread. When the building collapsed Friday, dozens of the sons and daughters of India’s striving middle class were killed, trapped after a powerful earthquake struck this thriving city in western India. (Celia W. Dugger, 1/28/01)

  1. AT THE SHINGO RIVER, Pakistan, July 1 – The Pakistani and Indian soldiers eye each other warily from observation posts on jagged Himalayan ridges that scratch across the soft blue sky like an electrocardiogram. (Celia W. Dugger, 7/2/99)

  1. Today’s crash left coaches piled atop each other like logs on a campfire.

(Barry Bearak. 8/3/99, husband of Celia W. Dugger)

  1. Allan Houston began flapping his arms to the crowd as if making a snow angel.

(Selena Roberts, 12/13/99)

  1. In the glow of his television set, Chris Childs watched the point guard with the cheap haircut slither down the court with the unpredicatble zigzags of a raindrop on a window pane. (Selena Roberts 11/28/99)

  1. WIMBLEDON, England, July 4 – Pete Sampras waved his racket like Merlin’s wand and, in one brash swoop, made Andre Agassi disappear. (Robin Finn, 7/5/99)

  1. Suspended from single, thumb-thick ropes, they hang like spiders hundreds of feet in the air, cleaning this country’s high-rise windows. (Craig Smith, 10/19/00)

11. As thin as an iPod Nano, as full of adolescent self-display as a Facebook page, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” strives to capture, in meticulous detail, what it’s like to be young right now. (A.O. Scott, 10/3/08)

12. WESTERVILLE, OhioLike rival warships pulling into the same small harbor, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton held rallies hours apart and exchanged oratorical barrages here Sunday. (Michael Powell, 3/3/08)

13. The river was patrolled to keep out commercial fishermen, so the pristine nature of the place was preserved. The only indication that a camp existed was a beige landing strip, like a stick of gum that sat in the forest perpendicular to the river. (James Prosek, 2/16/08)

14. Like a stray strand of spaghetti just outside of the dinner plate, the route of the G subway line runs, for the most part, from Brooklyn to Queens — but decidedly not into Manhattan. (Anthony Ramirez, 4/9/08)

15. Islands — some 1,200 of them — dot the Adriatic coast of Croatia like a long line of bread crumbs, ranging from two-acre specks to 35-mile-long spines of rock and scrub. Beautiful and remote, the labyrinth stretches for several hundred miles, from the northern coastal town of Rijeka past the walled city of Dubrovnik. (Jon Bowermaster, 5/4/08)

16. SHILLONG, India — Lou Majaw wore his signature skin-tight, cutoff short-shorts. His long gray hair hung like dirty threads around his face. Eyes closed in prayer, a guitar cupped in arms, he strummed the chords to “Blowin’ in the Wind.” (Somini Sengupta, 6/23/08)

17. The bus lurched headlong into the window of the United Commercial Bank at 77 Bowery, and afterward, crowds stood behind yellow police tape to take pictures or simply gaze. The side of the bus had been shorn off as if by a can opener and the dump truck was crumpled like a cardboard toy. (Eric Konigsberg and Colin Moynihan, 6/24/08)

18. Ignoring a cry of “double fault” that rained down from the upper deck of Arthur Ashe Stadium and was meant to strike him down like a bolt of lightning, Novak Djokovic tossed the ball and uncorked a 125-mile-an-hour serve. (Karen Crouse, 9/5/08)
19. Mr. Gibson, who sat back in his chair and wriggled his foot impatiently, had the skeptical, annoyed tone of a university president who agrees to interview the daughter of a trustee, but doesn’t believe she merits admission. (Alessandra Stanley, 9/12/08)

20. Like water rushing over a river’s banks, the federal government’s rapidly mounting expenses are overwhelming the federal budget and increasing an already swollen deficit. Louis Uchitelle and Robert Pear 10/20/08

21. If some old-school Broadway escapism is what you’re looking for, and the prospect of singing the title tune along with a bright-beaming Broadway cast in festive sweaters fills you with seasonal cheer — at a time when cheer of any kind is in scant supply — “White Christmas” should be put somewhere on your wish list. For anyone else, however, the show will seem about as fresh and appealing as a roll of Necco wafers found in a mothballed Christmas stocking. (Charles Isherwood) 11/24/08

22. NASHVILLE — They sprinted through the tunnel toward the victorious visitors’ locker room. Quarterback Brett Favre and cornerback Ty Law, two of the oldest players on the Jets, bounded up the ramp like children in a footrace instead of golden oldies with 32 years of combined N.F.L. experience. (Greg Bishop) 11/24/08

23. This time of year one of Manhattan’s signature pleasures is a stroll up Fifth Avenue from 59th Street on a crisp, clear weekend morning. To your left, the trees of Central Park stubbornly clutch fistfuls of green and yellow leaves. To your right, doormen in long coats and matching caps stamp their feet at the discreet entrances to the city’s most exclusive residential buildings. And strung like pearls all up the avenue are fine mansions built by captains of industry and robber barons around the turn of the 20th century. (John Strausbaugh) 12/14/07

24. The seagulls seemed unusually depressed. They hovered near the jetty, then fell like sacks of laundry into the sea. (Alan Feuer) 7/16/09

25. With a nation in recession and households cutting back on nights out at the movies, and even canceling cable services, Netflix has thrived, with a growing number of subscribers looking for cheap escapist relief. The company announced in February that it had surpassed 10 million subscribers. The slim red envelopes are everywhere these days, each packed with a single DVD, pumping like platelets through the nation’s mail system. (Michael Wilson) 3/29/09

26. Over an insinuating bossa nova beat Claus Ogerman's ominously beautiful orchestral arrangement for Diana Krall's recording of ''Dancing in the Dark'' rolls in like overlapping waves on a rising tide ahead of an approaching coastal storm. As the music thickens, and the heady romantic promise of a couple on the dance floor vowing to ''face the music together'' gathers force, Ms. Krall's darkly inviting voice steals into the arrangement. Her aura is sensual but also faintly surly and a little guarded. She wraps the song in mystery. As it comes to an end, the tide turns and slowly starts to roll away, fading out on waves that gradually recede into a murky void. (Stephen Holden) 12/6/01

27. Indeed, goats have long held a lowly reputation. Scavengers, they are falsely accused of eating tin cans. Their unappetizing visage is simultaneously dopey and satanic, like a Disney character with a terrible secret. (Henry Alford) 4/1/09

28. Above the cobblestone streets, in her Balinese-inspired living room-cum-office, Diane von Furstenberg is stretched like a cat on the couch, coolly gazing beyond the Buddha statues and glass terrace doors at the rain. (Stephanie Rosenbloom) 7/18/09

30. The hand-scrawled letter from a New Jersey jail was urgent. An immigration detainee had died that day, Sept. 9, 2005, a fellow inmate wrote in broken English, describing chest pains and pleas for medical attention that went unheeded until too late. “Death ... need to be investigated,” he urged a local group that corresponded with foreigners held for deportation at the jail, the Monmouth County Correctional Institute in Freehold. “We care very much because that can happen to anyone of us.” Yet like a message in a bottle tossed from a distant shore, even the fact of the detainee’s death was soon swept away. (Nina Bernstein) 4/3//09

31. FARMINGDALE, N.Y., June 13 – Like a carpenter using every tool in his box, Tiger Woods crafted an impressive round that set the pace at the United States Open today. The length of Woods’ shots was his hammer, allowing him to attack from places on the course that other players could not. His creative short game was his all-purpose tool, allowing Woods to save par several times from precarious positions. And his putter was the glue, the final ingredient that bonded his performance. (Clifton Brown, 6/14/02)

32. Serena Williams walked into a side room in a Midtown Manhattan hotel yesterday morning as tired as day-old party balloons, but she quickly perked up once she began to realize the kind of legacy she had created over the past two weeks. (Selena Roberts) 9/9/02

33. There was Pete Sampras, methodically popping out aces like a Pez dispenser, deliberately separating his racket strings between points. (Selena Roberts) 9/9/02

34. Consuming this endlessly listenable record is like savoring supremely delicious comfort food. It leaves you feeling nurtured and uplifted. (Stephen Holden) 11/24/02

35. Each slice was perched on a round of Italian bread, but most of the men ate only the meat and stacked the bread slices in front of them, tallying their gluttony like poker players amassing chips. Laughter and uproarious conversation were in abundance; subtlety was not. (Paul Lukas, 1/30/08)

36. The tiny Ms. Dundas, her mud-brown hair in an unflattering mop, scampers around the kitchen like a frenzied squirrel as Lenny tries to attend to all the pressing tasks at hand. (Charles Isherwood) 2/15/08

37. Making her Broadway debut, Reba McEntire glides into the title role of ''Annie Get Your Gun'' like a seabird landing on water. (Ben Brantley) 2/9/01

38. GLENDALE, Ariz. — The calm face that Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner wore like a mask Sunday might have put his nervous teammates at ease, but his wife, Brenda, was not fooled. In the hours before the Cardinals’ National Football Conference championship game against the Eagles, she described her husband’s mood as “crabby.” She laughed. “In the zone,” she said, “but crabby.” (Karen Crouse) 1/19/09

39. Getting between a broker and his bonus is like getting between a schnauzer and his lunch bowl. He may not bite you, but you are going to smell his breath. (Alan Feuer and Karen Zraick) 1/31/09

40. Last October, fighting at 5 feet 11 inches and 200 pounds, Shawn won the United States Boxing Organization cruiserweight title with a second-round knockout. He hit his opponent, Josh Green, with a right-handed punch of such accuracy and power that Green’s neck wobbled and he seemed to grow invertebrate for a moment, sagging down the ropes like a Dali clock. (Jeré Longman) 2/9/09

41. So much, yet so little, is known about Dorothy Wordsworth that she is impossibly attractive to biographers and scholars, who glide down her empty expanses like skiers, some of them leaping from helicopters to explore the stranger, more forbidding peaks. (Dwight Garner) 2/25/09

42. Eczema, as all sufferers know, can be unbearable. An eruption of troubled skin can burn and itch like a cluster of fresh mosquito bites that will not go away, and these patches can crop up all over the body. (Jennifer A. Kingson) 2/26/09

43. I work best out here in the desert sun, by a window overlooking a big saguaro cactus and a mesquite tree with a bird feeder that gets so much action that the whole scene looks like a Disney cartoon. (Joe Sharkey) 3/3/09

44. As for the veal, it was pounded so thin when I had it that I could have read a Bumble Bee label through it, and it adhered like wet tissue paper to the plate. Its texture was off-putting; its taste, sadly muted. (Frank Bruni) 3/4/09

45. Pithy little life lessons keep coming at you in Michael Jacobs’s “Impressionism,” as if off a conveyor belt in a greeting card factory. But the one most immediately relevant to this undernourished play, which stars an ill-used Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen, has to do with looking at life as if it were an Impressionist painting. (Ben Brantley) 3/25/09

46. When Jimmy Fallon showed up on NBC’s “Late Night” last week without a sidekick, it looked like yet another sign that the Ed McMahon era is over; so many talk show hosts work solo that the second-banana position seems almost as obsolete as the foretopman or the Linotype operator. Even the word sounds antiquated: current parlance favors the more “Top Gun”-ian term, wingman. (Alessandra Stanley) 3/8/09

47. Watching “The Philanthropist,” a moribund revival of a 1969 play by Christopher Hampton that opened Sunday night at the American Airlines Theater, is like being stuck in a stuffy room with a bunch of pompous, malicious or dreary writers and academics.(Charles Isherwood) 4/27/09

48. Abundant wreaths of ghostly mold hang from the ceiling like sentinels, guarding thousands of bottles of gran reserva wine deep in the cellars of the R. López de Heredia winery here in the heart of Rioja. (Eric Asimov) 8/12/09

49. Water levels have dropped more than three feet in the last 10 years and explosive algae blooms, which cover the lake’s surface like a coat of thick green paint, are choking off the fish. (Jeffrey Gettleman) 8/16/09

50. The “garden platter” consists of whatever was picked fresh that morning. On a recent visit, the greens, snap peas, tomatoes and squash tossed in a white wine vinaigrette tasted like summer in a bowl. (Emily Denitto) 8/14/09
51. Mr. Cronkite’s contribution is still relished by many, as the outpouring of comments about him showed over the weekend. CBS News is still based at the same West 57th Street building in Manhattan where Mr. Cronkite worked. And a little more than a year ago, he paid a surprise visit. “When he walked in the newsroom,” Mr. McManus recalled, “it was like Thomas Jefferson walking into a history class at a university.”

(Brian Stelter) 7/20/09

52. Countless couples got engaged [at the Café des Artistes] in the glow of the restaurant’s dim, romantic lighting. Stars flocked there during its heyday. Business deals were forged. Yet for better or worse, as the latest foodie craze swept the city, the restaurant kept serving its standbys, like pot-au-feu and salmon four ways, considered classics by some and relics by others. It stayed frozen in time, like an Upper West Side Miss Havisham. (Cara Buckley) 8/31/09

53. Holding tight to her sister’s hand in the bustling streets of New York’s Chinatown last week, Xiu Ping Jiang looked a little dazed, like someone who has stepped from a dark, windowless place into a sunny afternoon. (Nina Bernstein) 9/11/09

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