Often we come across people who have read a great novel and comment that it was full of imagery. But what does that man exactly?
Writers use imagery to convey a sense of scenes and characters. It is used as a support tool to enhance description, to engage the reader on a deeper level with their writing, to involve the reader to the kind of level where they imagine themselves right there within the scene.
Imagery is a key aspect of fictional writing, it allows the writer to connect with the reader, but it also connects the reader to the story on many different levels. You are allowing the reader to visualise your fictional world.
In essence, it is about emphasis. So, how do you go about creating the right imagery?
One strategy any writer can use is the use of metaphor and simile intermittently embedded within the narrative. (Don’t overuse them; otherwise, your writing could become cliché). The idea with metaphor and simile is to create new ones to resonate with the reader, rather than use ones that you have read by other writers.
A metaphor is a figure of speech that transfers a sense of a word or sentence to another, for example, ‘The burgeoning, darkened clouds were shards of burnished steel’. The clouds are being compared to burnished steel, in both colour and texture, and it creates a sense of denseness, since steel is heavy.
A simile, on the other hand, acts the same as a metaphor, but we use the words ‘like’ to make the comparison and add perception, for example, ‘her eyes glistened like diamonds’. These are useful when creating description and imagery, but use them sparingly and don’t fall into the trap of making it sound like a cliché.
Another way to engage the reader with imagery is to incorporate the senses. For example, if you were blind, how would you picture the world around you? You would use your other senses to compensate in order to build that picture. What if you were trying to explain a photograph of a beautiful landscape to your friend, who is on the telephone and can’t see it? You have to create the image for them. Creating imagery works the same way in fictional writing, because the reader has no idea about the world of the character you have created or their surroundings, they cannot see this world. You have to show them.
The idea with creating imagery is to choose specific and clear words to effectively convey an image. That also means you need to clearly understand the meaning and context to what you want to convey in order for the reader to understand, too, because creating imagery isn’t about being flowery with descriptions (which often happens) or trying to impress your reader. It’s not about being overly literary. It’s about creating a sense of realism; it’s about bringing the two dimensional into the realm of three dimensional by keeping a sense of reality.
You have to make the images as vivid and as clear as possible. That means using colour, texture, sounds, a sense of taste etc.
Here’s an example from one of my own flash fiction pieces, called ‘Sliver’, a micro tale of a serial killer going about his usual business of harvesting flesh from his victim:
He worked quickly so she wouldn’t spoil.
She made patterns on the floor; a misshaped carmine coloured template to his immaculate harvesting. She gleamed in his hands; moist reflections filled his expression as he collected fragile slivers.
Her pain had spiked; numbness rushed in to mask her miserable odour. She’d made poppy puddles; he was careful not to slip on the mess.
He laid her out, slice after slice. Next to her tongue. He worked better listening to her gurgle in her own blood.
She had young, beautiful, soft skin.
And he was going to collect every inch of it.
©A J Humpage 2011
Let’s look at the piece in more detail. The very first line sets out the context of the piece. The key word here is ‘spoil’. ‘He worked quickly so she wouldn’t spoil’. This lets the reader know the urgency of the killer’s work, and what would happen to a body after death.
‘She gleamed in his hands’ is a deliberate way of impressing the connotation of blood on the skin. I could have written something like ‘the light made her blood gleam.’ While this is quite acceptable, the idea that the victim’s flesh does this in his hands adds a deeper message to the reader; it makes them visualise it.
Instead of writing something like, ‘She bled on the floor,’ I decided to create something stronger to allow the reader to visualise the scene, so I chose ‘She’d made poppy puddles’, which is a metaphor. I used the poppy colour to symbolise the brightness of fresh blood, and the word puddle creates a descriptive picture of the mess. I focused on the description of the colour to emphasise the point.
This simple example shows how imagery should work. It’s not out to impress, it’s not created to be pretentious, but it is there to elevate description to a level that draws the reader into the fictitious world you have created without evening thinking about it.
Next week Part 2 – Using assonance, structure and conveying meanings etc