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Would the following sentences have different effects on the reader?

He washed his hands thoroughly, like a surgeon after an operation.

Like a surgeon after an operation, he washed his hands thoroughly.

Full example:

After pouring the last ingredient, he washed his hands thoroughly, like a surgeon after an operation. Then, he placed the drink in front of her.

After pouring the last ingredient, like a surgeon after an operation, he washed his hands thoroughly. Then, he placed the drink in front of her.

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Oh, thanks for the Weird Al Yankovic earworm. –  Lauren Ipsum May 11 '13 at 11:00

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

In either case, there's something missing — or maybe it's because the sentence is out of context. Just to say someone washed his hands like a surgeon is insufficient; you need more detail. "He scrubbed his hands for over two minutes" or "thoroughly" or "with meticulous care" like a surgeon etc.

They do have different effects. The first one puts your character first. The second one creates an image which the reader then has to insert your character into. But I'd need to see more to tell you which one works.

ETA Okay, now that I've seen your context, the second example absolutely does not work at all. You cannot connect "pouring an ingredient" to "washing hands like a surgeon." Sentences attach to what comes before them as well as to what comes after them, and if your sentence starts with a simile or an image, I'm going to think it's a continuation of the thought or the sentence I just read unless you give me direction to do otherwise.

I thought it was going to be more like:

Time slowed to a near-crawl, like it always did when he was lining up a shot. He aimed through the two windows, finding the spot just above the cabbie's heart to allow for the bullet to fall with distance, and then fired. He was gone down the hall before the echoes stopped ringing.

His new flatmate was safe. Now he only needed to clean up the evidence. Like a surgeon after an operation, he washed his hands thoroughly. The gun disappeared into the murky waters of the Thames. A quick brushing took care of any glass splinters on his coat, and then he was off to wait outside the police barrier for the DI to finish with Sherlock.

See, that puts your simile into context which works no matter where in the sentence it lands. It's supposed to emphasize how clean his hands are, but it also links backwards to the previous sentence and its events (that the shooting was quick, clean, and preicse).

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Thank for the suggestion. I updated the question. –  Alexandro Chen May 11 '13 at 17:24
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Even before Lauren provided this crime-related example, I thought that the phrase "like a surgeon..." suggested violence (because surgeons cut up bodies, and must remove blood from their hands). If you merely mean that he washed his hands thoroughly in a non-sinister fashion, you probably want to tweak the choice of simile. –  Anna M May 12 '13 at 2:19
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you cannot connect "pouring an ingredient" to "washing hands like a surgeon." Mad scientists can do that and more! But the character here seems to be a bartender so, yeah. It's more about the characterization and how much flavor your characters add to your narrative voice, which is generally assumed, at the beginning of reading, to be impartial, esp 3rd-p narrations. Would your character be making a drink, smile sinisterly on the inside, and wash their hands like a surgeon because... You get the idea. –  Mussri May 12 '13 at 14:48
    
@Mussri Yes, you have an excellent point. The plot could be such that the ingredient is deadly, and the bartender would have to sanitize his hands after adding it. That just supports my original comment that we need context to say whether the placement of the simile works. –  Lauren Ipsum May 12 '13 at 15:56

If you must go with one of those, I would go with the first one. It just seems to go more smoothly. However, in order to PERFECT the sentence, you may want to try a different technique than similes. Either way it's really good. Hope this helps!

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