Writers are always striving to ensure that their stories leave a lasting impact upon their readers because if they can do that, then there is every chance the reader will come back for more.
One of the ways that writers can leave the reader with the idea that they have read the most incredible novel, a story that, whatever the genre, leaves them believing the story and the characters, is to make use of lasting images.
Lasting images act as memory markers for readers. Think of some of the most memorable movies – certain scenes or images remain with us, because they are so strong or vivid or surreal, so we remember them. Literature works in the same way. By creating lasting images, the writer is creating instances that make it memorable and not easily forgotten. That’s how many of the great novels have remained in our subconscious.
We create the kind of lasting images that will stay with the reader, and that’s down to the strength of the description and characters. For example, some of the most well known books have created lasting images. Here's a few examples:
Jaws – One of the most memorable scenes that Peter Benchley created for Jaws involved a swimmer at the beginning of the story, unaware of the huge shark skulking just beneath the surface. Benchley uses fear and visceral description to create a lasting image that stays with the reader.
Carrie – Not many people can forget the scene at the Prom where Carrie is crowned prom queen, unaware of the joke about to befall her. The pig’s blood streaming down her face and body creates a lasting image, cleverly constructed to invoke disgust (the sight of the blood), sympathy (with Carrie’s treatment and torment) and a dislike for the perpetrators. It’s vivid and strong and uses colour and fear to make a lasting mental image.
Lord of the Flies – William Golding uses a wild pig’s head mounted on a wooden stake to symbolise the deterioration of group dynamics among the boys stranded on an island after an air crash. Slowly the flesh rots and the flies gather to infest it. The image Golding creates is so evocative that one could almost smell that rotting, decaying flesh. It provokes the reader, it creates emotions like horror and disgust, it creates fear within the characters and so it makes us remember the story – it has done its job.
2001 A Space Odyssey – The image of the mysterious monolith stays with the reader because Arthur C. Clark maximises our interest and mood with its power and mystery. Even though the object is static and doesn’t move, he created a lasting, tangible mental image for the reader.
Why create such images?
It’s our job, as writers, to make sure the reader not only enjoys the story we create, but also remembers it, or most elements of it. The story should leap from the pages of your book, such images should make the reader sit up and take notice.
Like movies, we tend to remember certain images, be them funny, shocking, emotional, intense or surreal. In fiction writing we do that by evoking reactions within the reader – the sensory, psychological and emotional reactions, because a mental image is a composite of all the various elements we can descriptively put together, encompassing senses like touch, taste or smell, but also mood and atmosphere, vivid or visceral description or heightened emotions and the use of colours.
Writers use all this to provoke a reaction within the reader. Such strong images contain certain motifs, symbols or metaphors. Think of Golding’s pig’s head – a symbol of the beast, or the colour of the blood that is poured over Carrie. The colour symbolises life and death. The monoliths in 2001 are a metaphor for intelligence and destruction.
By tapping into the reader’s subconscious, these examples proved to be memorable. So when you write certain key scenes, make them memorable, make them vivid, make them stand out, and create a lasting mental image that stays with the reader, so that ultimately they will keep coming back for more.
Next week: Is back story necessary?