This Business of Writing

More Tips on Imagery in Your Novel

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 16, 2010 at 3:43 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

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To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

Imagery, those pictures you paint with your fiction, serves as a powerful tool to transport your readers to another place and time. It makes your novel more believable to your readers and places them inside the world you’ve created with your words. Without imagery, you lose much of the strength to your words and even more of the potential power within your novel. Effective imagery is as important to the novel writer as any character.

Imagine the story of Snow White with seven tall men in place of the dwarfs. It loses so much of its appeal, doesn’t it? Snow White and the Seven Giants? Ah, it’s just not the same. This simple example should give you an impression of how important effective imagery is to your novel.

Now that we understand why we use imagery, let’s look at some more tips on how to use it. (You can find more information about imagery in THIS article.)

Successful authors often use setting to convey imagery. Has a rainy day ever affected your mood? I’m sure it has and it probably made you tired or melancholy. My question to you is why didn’t it make you feel like dancing. After all, there’s ever a song about dancing in the rain. My point, of course, is setting is a great tool to utilize to enhance your story. Your sentence might go something like this: “The over-bright sun blinded him in the same manner the many choices he faced hid the best decision from him.”

Choose an order by which you describe something. For example, describe something or someplace from top to bottom and left to right. Use any order you wish, but this systematic portrayal gives your readers a more logical, thus more grounded, way to see the picture you paint with your words.

When you reach a point in your novel where your story requires imagery, close your eyes and imagine what it is you wish to tell your readers. Pay attention to the details. Then, scribble quick notes as to the five senses you’d use to create the mood, the feeling, the place or object about which you wish to write.

Use similes and metaphors to draw your imagery in the minds of your novel’s readers. (Simile is a comparison of things using “like” or “as” whereas a metaphor makes a comparison without either of these words.) An example? “Her skin felt as smooth as polished marble.”

Personification is a useful tool when you create imagery in your novel. That is, give human-like qualities to something nonhuman. Here’s an example. “The breeze whispered through the woods.”

One of the best ways to employ imagery is to surprise your reader. Use contrast in a way they’d never expect. Is her skin the lustrous hue of alabaster? Why not the skin of shaved cat, pasty, thin? Not all of your imagery need be of the beautiful. In fact, readers will often appreciate just the opposite. In my second novel, the character all my female readers liked the most by a wide margin was the tall, chiseled hunk who fell for the dumpy farmer’s daughter. Without variation, they said they liked him for his love of the unattractive woman, not his good looks. Contrast, especially if unexpected, can have a dramatic effect on your story and your novel.

This brings us to the ugly images you should consider. When you closed your eyes in our earlier example, did something you see appear unappealing? Then write it that way in some way. As with the life we all know, not all images are beautiful. Much in life is in fact, ugly, disturbing, or even disgusting. As long as your imagery is authentic, it will work with your readers. In fact, it is when your imagery becomes improbable that your reader puts down your novel.

I offer three cautions as to imagery in your novel. As with everywhere in the craft of writing, cliches are unwelcome. Phrases such as “tough as nails” or “dark as night” no longer spur the imagination of your readers. Be creative. Also, use care not to overindulge your imagery. If your readers knows the number of teeth missing from his comb, you’ve probably said too much and the result is often the loss of action and pace within your story. Finally, not every scene requires extensive imagery. Like every other aspect of your novel, imagery must be integral to the story for inclusion.

Now I ask you. What tips might you wish to pass along to the readers of this blog as to how you create imagery in your novels?

As always, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


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  1. Very helpful, thank you! :]

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