Use of “Like” and How To Remove

The first critique is back from one of my proof-readers, and they loved it for all the reasons I wanted them to love it, but their only complaint was that I used the “like” simile so much that it became cumbersome and broke up the flow.  It seems that I use like followed by a simile as a signature of my own writing style, and it is something that needs to be thinned out.

I did a search within my novel so far and found that I used the word “like”, like, a few thousand times.  Some of the characters over-use the word as part of their speech, and if I removed the word too much their characterization would change.  One of them uses this word ad nauseum for a desired effect on the reader.

Here are a few ways I will revise them:

1.  Use “As” – Similes are descriptions using “like” or “as”, but most of us use the word “like” which completely riddles your reader with it, causing your reader to get that annoying feeling we all get when we get that corn husk stuck between our teeth while eating popcorn.  Change about half of them to “as” and you will solve this problem.

2. Description Takes Practice – Try to describe things in a different way using a metaphor instead of a simile.  There are several ways to describe things in your novel without using similes at all.  Similes seem to be the default for most of us because that is the way most people speak today.  Here are a few descriptive literary devices to try:

  • Hyperbole – the use of exaggeration as a figure of speech.  For example, I could write: “The people of this county were poor like a vagrant at a hobo convention.”  Or, I could say “In this county there was nothing to buy and no one could buy it if it were for sale.”
  • Synecdoche – description of something where a part stands for the whole or vice versa.  For example, I could write: “His face resembled a rodent like a weasel.”  Or I could write: “His face resembled more of a snout.”

3.  Use a Metaphor Instead – Sometimes, when the sentence warrants it, you can remove the “like” or “as” altogether and create a metaphor.  For example: I could write “She blathered on like a crazy chipmunk on crack.”  Or I could write: “She blathered on, some crazy chipmunk on crack.”

I’m not the most experienced (or most published) writer reading this article, so please feel free to post your own ideas about dealing with the plague of overusing the word “like”.  We are all waiting for your responses.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

11 thoughts on “Use of “Like” and How To Remove

  1. I write poetry as well as being in the process of writing a novel. The great thing about poetry, especially classical (traditional) formats, is that they force you to write more succinctly – to learn to choose every word with care and deliberation. Haiku is great for that, simply because of its strict word and syllabic restrictions.

    It’s worth a try if you find you’re consistently using ‘dead’ words, repetitive words, and words just for ‘filler’.

    Great post, Roger, and I especially enjoyed Matthew’s excellent comment! ~ Julie 🙂

  2. Any word can become a ‘repeat word’ for an author. It seems to me that the way around it is to take control of the writing. The author has to dominate the words, not the other way around; to learn how to precisely express the emotion that they are trying to convey. Use of metaphor, simile, hyperbole and other devices are all pivotal to establishing that specific writing voice, but the author should not be consciously thinking about it when writing. With proper control, the author’s chosen voice should flow unconsciously, easily, and consistently.

    This is certainly a learned skill; one does not ‘become’ a writer – there is always a yen, but the craft of it has to be practised, like everything else. I’ve found it best improves with deliberate writing exercises, such as attempting to write a specific style (pick one, e.g. Kerouac, or Dunsany). And like practising the piano, these vignettes can be thrown away away afterwards – they are not being written to publish, they are being written to make a better writer. It IS worth the time and, I think, authors at any stage in their careers can benefit from it. Indeed, the learning and quest for improvement never stops – I constantly work at what I am doing, and I’ve been in the business now, professionally, coming up 30 years.

    That said, repeat words are not all bad – I’ve had professional proof-editors employed by publishing houses, for instance, pick on one word I’ve repeated twice in different paragraphs on the same page. I’ll argue back about that sort of thing – I have the exact same professional skill set as they do, and these days (ahem) I find I have been in the game longer. ‘If I’ve repeated something,’ I’ll explain, ‘it is intentional’. Sometimes repetition can be used positively – think ‘Blackadder’ metaphor (‘Baldrick, that was stupider than a stupid thing from planet stupid with a PhD in stupid’).

    Hope that’s handy – this is stuff that’s worked for me.

  3. Hi Roger

    Not wanting to like, overstate the case, but I read your article, and I was like, Roger you’re totally onto it, like onto it man.

    PS. I also ‘liked’ the article on Facebook

  4. I’m a big fan of N.D. Wilson’s writing (if you haven’t heard of him, look up the 100 Cupboards trilogy). He uses a lot of personification – describing an inanimate or abstract thing as having character, human qualities, etc. So rather than saying “his eyes were like a blazing fire” or even using a metaphor as in: “His eyes were a blazing fire,” you would say simply “His eyes blazed”.

  5. Yes, the word ‘like’ does tend to creep into our daily speech & writing quite often. A sign of the times, I think. Certain teens seem to use it a lot, just because, like, they just like the word like. You know? lol

    I think you’re on the right track to suggest using hyperbole and metaphors instead of the dreaded ‘like’. It’s just a matter of retraining our brains to think a different way when describing things – a more poetic influence, if you will. Learn new vocabulary & turns of phrase or compare things in a more creative way.

    Now, if only we could retrain certain people not to use the ‘f-word’ as an adjective for everything! 🙂

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