This Business of Writing

8 Tips for Writing Compelling Imagery

In The Craft of Writing on December 3, 2009 at 9:20 am

In novel writing, the descriptions you create relative to setting can have a major impact on the power of your writing. Many new authors write descriptions but often miss the concept of imagery altogether. Think of a description as a photograph, if you will. The average writer looks over the photo and writes the various things he sees. This is not necessarily the best way to convey what you wish your readers to envision. Here’s a typical description.

The construction of the building was of stone. It squatted on the wide field, surrounded by landscaping that suffered from neglect. The thin windows looked more like slits one might see in castles of old.

Instead, you might try to write in a way that incorporates the images you see into the action. For example the above description might be reworded as such:

He strode into the stone building and noted the poor quality of the landscape. Once inside, he wondered as to the purpose for the narrow windows which allowed little light to enter the rooms.

Paint your verbal pictures in nibbles more than great gulps of information. This means you should avoid writing descriptions of setting in long narratives. A rule, and we all know rules are created for us to break, says to put no more than two sentences together when describing your scene. Try not to fall into the trap where long descriptions will draw your reader’s attention from the main story.

Use your characters’ senses. The following example will demonstrate this concept. Once inside, he noticed a soft clanging that drifted through the building. It sounded somewhat like someone hammered on bronze. He tiptoed farther in and noticed an odor waft up from beneath the floorboards. Old food, perhaps?

Pepper dialogue with imagery. That is to say you might consider allowing your characters to impart images of things happening when they speak. “I can’t seem to stop these goose bumps from rising, no matter what I do.”

Use verbs that convey action. Words such as twirled, jumped, scurried or plotted show action by their very nature.

Use adverbs that convey action. An example might be a character’s shredded credit card. “Shredded” shows an action but is used to describe the noun. Another example is a groaning piece of equipment.

Use ordinary things in other than ordinary ways. For example, what about using an automobile to pull a tow truck or having a car chase a dog?

Think small. Have your characters take note of some of the smallest of details in your setting. Could you make use of the tiny nubs on the treads of a new tire? When might you point out the indentation at the bottom of a wine bottle? Can you imagine ever employing the scratches on a cell phone screen in your novel?

Do any of you have other examples as to how a novel writer might employ more compelling imagery? I’d appreciate your suggestions.

As always, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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  3. […] Click here to read the whole post.  Patrick has some examples. […]

  4. […] This post was Twitted by deformedcoffee […]

  5. Particualrly liked the part about “Think small”.

    I think that the writers that grab my attention the most are the ones whose characters are able to look at the details in situations. That is how I form my mental image of the scene, and also my belief in the “report” I’m getting from the character.

    An example in my mind, is the Robert Kincaid character in “Bridges of Madison County” who is a photographer. He looks at things with the eye of a “Photographer” and tends to describe them that way. Helps to make me believe that he is really is a National Geographic photographer in the books.

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