Here are some of the ways I spotted...
- to show a preference for something - "I like your novel," said the literary agent
- to make a simile - the novel was like a refreshing drink on a hot day
- to consider two things as being similar (this point is like the one above) - the book was like another by the same writer
- to replace 'as if' - it's not like the author was already a best-seller
- to replace 'as' - the editor was unhappy with the sales figures, just like you thought she would be
Have I missed any from my list? What other ways can you use the word 'like'?
For me, these final two points were my downfall. I must have written 'like' instead of 'as if' a couple of dozen times at least. I should point out that the novel is written in multiple first-person voices so the tone is informal, though I don't usually have that excuse! In many cases I replaced the 'like', but in many other cases I left it. People don't talk with perfect grammar and when trying to differentiate between five voices, it's useful to have one or two subtle verbal tics or quirks to help identify a character.
It's easy to get paranoid about word frequency once you start analysing it. Sure, we don't want flabby sentences, but we also don't need to cut to the bone all the time. I'm pretty sure nobody would really notice 'like' as it appears in my novel (well, they will if they read this post!). There are so many other unnecessary words and phrases we use that create an amateur impression - unusual physiology (his eyes darted across the room), unnecessary directions (he looked down at his feet), double-action overwrites (she reached over and picked it up) - 'like' is probably the least of our problems.
Anyway, hasn't Facebook made 'Like' the coolest word in like the whole world now? That's what I've heard.
Is there anything you find distracting if an author uses it too much in a book or short story? (I personally find over-used ellipsis distracting). Any words becoming a bit too popular for you? (It doesn't annoy me, but I find it amusing how many novels are named 'The _____'s Daughter', and 'The _______'s Wife'!)