Writing isn't just about imagery...

Every writer knows how important imagery is. It’s what connects the writer to the reader and allows them to imagine more than mere words. But imagery isn’t just about stimulating the reader by building up words and sentences to create scenes. There is much more to it. 

Don’t just write, but feel the words that you write. This might sound a little crazy, but essentially writing is all about ‘feeling’ – not just the emotions and the tensions within a story, but it’s about feeling the depth and richness of the words you are writing, the sound they make, the colours they evoke.

Effective writing is also about being able to ‘listen’ to the words, to be able to hear how they sound within a scene and therefore help you visualise everything. Writing is undoubtedly a sensory experience, if done correctly. Listen to anyone reading aloud and you will understand what it is to ‘listen’ to the flow, the speed, the inflection and richness of words. This is how we ‘feel’ those words.

Intuitive, attentive writers take a great deal of care about the words they write, to create the right effect and the right emotion. It isn’t just about telling your reader what’s happening; it’s about involving them on as many levels as possible. They have to be part of the story, to feel it, taste it, touch it and sense it. It needs to be as real as it could ever be.

And writing isn’t just about creating words, either. It’s about creating a perfect relationship between the writer and the words created, and the importance of creating and structuring those words and sentences for the reader to truly understand.

The relationship is such that sometimes we know instinctively when we’ve chosen the right words, and moments that we realise that we’ve written the wrong words. They don’t feel right. It’s only when they feel right that we’re happy.

The words you choose make it possible for the reader to listen to the words, to feel the narrative, not just read about it, and to become part of the story. How often do you ‘listen’ to the words you write – does the narrative sing to you with vivid, rhythmic fluidity or does it clomp awkwardly and lack any sense of tempo?

Are your senses evoked or heightened by what you’ve written? If not, then try harder until it does. Feel the magic of your own words.

The more you engage the reader and make them ‘feel’ the scenes, the better your ability to illicit empathy and understanding, as well as enjoyment and satisfaction.

Something already touched upon in previous articles is sibilance. This plays a huge part in creating sounds, and helps the reader ‘feel’ the writing; it helps support the imagery you create. Using the senses wherever possible also helps.

I wrote the flash story below, Song of Silence, last year. It contains sibilance and rhythm, it creates imagery, and it allows the reader to feel the whole scene.

A thousand hollow, alabaster faces stared out from beyond the wire. Sunken eyes and lost expressions filled the heavy atmosphere. The sullen patter of rain spiralled from a slate laden sky.

Ribs pushed through taut, parched skin. Fingers clung to the fence like broken claws. Desperation bled from grey cadaver skin; men, woman and children, stripped of clothes and dignity, stood crushed together, holding each other up. 

The air stank of misery. Fear stalked the muddy fields and stifled the birds.

In just under an hour, they would all be dead; life stolen by poisonous gas.

The ovens burned, ready.

©AJ Humpage

Some people ‘hear’ music in various colours – Synethesia. Some writers hear words in colours, be them deep reds, velvety mauves or striking pastels. The association with colour and words is not farfetched – the ability to create multidimensional imagery through colours is not always explored by writers.

Another of my flash fiction pieces, A Bad Colour, gives you an idea about the use of colour in narrative:

Amber slices projected through the trees, the haze of the fire began to swell. The hint of burnt sienna wafted close, scorched a path beneath their noses.

Rope fibres moaned as they became taut, to temper the weight.

Shadows appeared through the smoke, circled him. Milk coloured robes flapped in the breeze, bathed by the fire glow, their faces hidden by hoods.

Red over black; the colour of life slinked down his skin, snaked down the channels they had gouged through his flesh. Open viscera gleamed.

He swung from the tree as the cross burned; the price for being different.

©AJ Humpage

So when you set out to write your next masterpiece, think carefully about the words you want, the words you think evoke the right emotion, the right atmosphere, the right sound, the right image, the right feeling, or the right colours.

Writing isn’t just about imagery; it encompasses so much more.

Next week: Use of prepositions


  1. Although, reading this, I hoped for an example, when it came it was not at all helpful because the perfect, right words have a sense of inevitability which makes their choice seem easy and they blend unnoticed. Ideally, I suppose, one would need to see, scored through, all the rejected words too ;-).

  2. Your recent post on the difference between imagery and feeling as well as seeing the words and how they fit in the scene really struck a chord with me. I tend to be a method writer and get extremely into my work. Then , when I read aloud for my writer's group, I can not help but have different tones to my voice as I read the different characters. Each word is considered carefully as I revise and edit. Thank you for acknowledging the importance of this process. Check out the shout out and meme I gave you on my blog and have a great week.

  3. Apologies for lack of examples @Sandra, but indeed it is one of those processes personal to the writer. They need to feel and breathe those words, whatever those words or sentences might be, so actual examples are hard. That sounds clear as mud!

    @ Christine - Thanks for that, I'm a bit of a method writer too. Glad to see it was helpful in some way.

    1. Apologies not necessary and re-reading my comment I see it sounds more disgruntled than was meant - I do know exactly what you mean about feeling and breathing the words, even though sometimes it comes easier than others, and it is ever-affirming to have stated clearly what one instinctively knows. (and apologies again if this doesn't sound right either!)

  4. No worries Sandra, I didn't read it as disgruntled at all! You made a valid point, but one that's hard to demonstrate! :)


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