Thursday, December 6, 2012
Eyes as Big as Saucers
I’m working on my next book, and per usual, I mix in occasional scenes for fun and transition. My current novel has a grizzly bear that gives occasional moments of respite, and while I was writing one scene, I manufactured the following sentence: “By then, Lauren had scrambled onto her feet and run to the kitchen where she turned to face the grizzly, her shovel brandished like a lance, her dark brown eyes as big as saucers.” I kind of liked the “shovel brandished like a lance” phrase, but I was unhappy with “eyes as big as saucers.” So I asked my wife, who often helps me when I’m stuck, to finish my simile. I said, “Eyes as big as ________.” Can you guess her response? “Saucers.” That couldn’t be the only response, could it?
A simile is a figure of speech in which two fundamentally unlike things are explicitly compared, usually in a phrase introduced by like or as, so I just assumed that eyes can be like other things that I can’t necessarily see out of. How about “quarters”? Well, I scrounged around the house trying to find a quarter, which was difficult because I’m totally broke, but when I did, I put it up to my eye and what I realized was…an eye is almost as big as a quarter. Not a good comparison. I found one of those dollar coins, which I should spend because I’m broke, and it was larger, but it made me think of Colonel Klink on Hogan’s Heroes and the Planter’s Peanuts dude with the monocle, so I dismissed that comparison as well. Next I considered, “her dark brown eyes as big as English muffins,” but when a picture of E.T. the Extraterrestrial popped into my head, I nixed that idea as well. Besides, I thought it was stupid. How could one phrase be so difficult?
I decided to try the internet. In my writing experience, that’s how all problems are solved. I made the mistake, however, of just typing in “similes” in my search. I got totally sidetracked with the following similes. 1. “His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.” 2. “Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap—only one that had been left out so long that it had rusted shut.” 3. “The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her like a dog at a fire hydrant.” 4. “The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.” 5. “Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.” 6. “She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.” 7. “Like a midget at a urinal, I was going to have to be on my toes.” 8. “She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.” 9. “He was as welcome as a bacon sandwich at a Bar Mitzvah.” 10. “He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.”
I find I get easily sidetracked. I typed in “her eyes were as big as…” and the first hit was this: “Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol is awful. ‘Her eyes were as big as saucers when it hit her like an oncoming train.’” Well, now I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I couldn’t use “eyes as big as saucers.” I’d be ridiculed. The next hit was on Jack Johnson’s “Bubble Toes” lyrics. “It's as simple as something that nobody knows that her eyes are as big as her bubbly toes on the feet of a queen of the hearts of the cards and her feet are all covered with tar balls and scars.” I never can quite understand how musicians can get away with lyrics like this. I guess if it makes no sense but it manages to fit the rhythm and has a rhyme at the end, it’s acceptable. I on the other hand, have a reputation to deal with, so my Lauren character shouldn’t have “eyes as big as her bubbly toes.”
I tried “big as…large as…round as…scared as,” and then I gave up. And a phrase came to me all on my own, as it always does. “By then, Lauren had scrambled onto her feet and run to the kitchen where she turned to face the grizzly, her shovel brandished like a lance. Just as with prey in a trap, her dark brown eyes were wild with terror in the midst of the madness.” It’s not funny like many I found or poetic like others or even unintelligible like in the songs, but it’s mine—unless I revise it later.