Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

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Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by glorybee » Sat Sep 13, 2014 8:39 am

Imagery is the use of words that appeal to the senses. Although the root of the word imagery is obviously the word image, imagery is more than just words about the sense of sight. It’s also words for things that your characters (or the readers) can smell, hear, taste, and feel. It can also include words that indicate a sense of movement, and bodily sensations (like temperature, hunger, illness, desire, sleepiness, and the like).

When you use imagery, you invite your readers to experience your writing on another level than just the level of words registering in the brain. In fiction, imagery allows readers to experience, albeit vicariously, the sensations of the characters. In nonfiction, imagery asks readers to recall (or to imagine) the sensations portrayed in your words, to better understand what you’re telling them.

Here’s an example of two similar sentences—one without imagery, and one with imagery.

• June felt guilty about the way she’d treated Susan, and everything she encountered seemed to remind her of what she’d done.
• June couldn’t escape the guilty memory—when she walked outside, even the trees seemed to whisper Susan, Susan.

The second sentence used the sounds of rustling leaves to poke at June’s guilty conscience, and even the verbs “escape” and “walked” indicate more movement than the first sentence.

Here’s another set of sentences:

• Carla kissed her little boy, finally asleep after a difficult day. He had resisted her at every moment, but now he seemed peaceful at last. He could be so stubborn, but when he was being sweet, there was nothing more precious.
• Carla kissed her small sleeping son. His forehead was hot and salty; she hadn’t the energy to insist that he wash after his difficult day. But there was something else lingering on his skin, only present in sleep—something sweet, almost like honey.

You can see, I think, how I used the sense of taste (and temperature) to convey Carla’s son’s contrasting characteristics.

And here’s an example of how a person might use imagery in nonfiction:

• When your actions are inconsistent with your stated beliefs, people who are not Christians will think you are a hypocrite.
• When your actions are inconsistent with your stated beliefs, it’s like leaving a pile of rotting garbage at the doorstep of the non-Christians watching you.

A few things to be careful of:

1. Don’t feel that you have to use lots and lots of adjectives to achieve imagery. Nouns will often do the trick.
2. Don’t try to cram every sense into one descriptive paragraph. Just look for places where a sensory word or phrase will convey your message better than a non-sensory one.
3. Look for ways to use imagery other than just writing phrases like it felt rough or it sounded loud. In other words, the sensory words felt, sounded, tasted, looked, smelled aren’t really necessary (they will tend to make your sentence “tell”ish).
4. Imagery is a great way to use metaphors, similes, and symbolism, thus elevating your writing. Anger rushed in her ears like a surging wave…the prayers of the congregation perfumed the sanctuary…She thought about their troubled marriage, wondering why they hadn’t been given sandpaper as a wedding gift.
5. Although I didn’t cover poetry in the lesson, imagery is vital in poetry, and especially in free verse, which can sometimes tend to be too abstract.

HOMEWORK:

1. Write a pair (or more) of sentences as I’ve done in the lesson, one sentence without imagery, and one sentence with imagery. Tell us about the process.
2. Link to an example of imagery in something you’ve written, or copy and paste a short sample.
3. Share an example of imagery in the work of someone whose writing you admire.
4. Make a comment or ask a question about imagery.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by WriterFearNot » Sat Sep 13, 2014 3:38 pm

Here's my example of imagery. It's an excerpt from an old Challenge entry (revised for this lesson). Any and all feedback welcome.

I fan out my shirt and glance at my sister who is sitting and sweating in the chair next to me. My uncle stands on the other side of the room like an immovable rock. It’s August in Denver, and no amount of hospital air conditioning can ease our nerves. Aunt Beverly sits in the padded patient lounger, sitting tall, as if as if tubes were not trailing from her body. Half of her face is paralyzed, yet her smile glows as she pins her watery eyes to mine. “I want you to become Sarah’s legal guardian.”

Theresa

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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by glorybee » Sat Sep 13, 2014 4:15 pm

WriterFearNot wrote:Here's my example of imagery. It's an excerpt from an old Challenge entry (revised for this lesson). Any and all feedback welcome.

I fan out my shirt and glance at my sister who is sitting and sweating in the chair next to me. My uncle stands on the other side of the room like an immovable rock. It’s August in Denver, and no amount of hospital air conditioning can ease our nerves. Aunt Beverly sits in the padded patient lounger, sitting tall, as if as if tubes were not trailing from her body. Half of her face is paralyzed, yet her smile glows as she pins her watery eyes to mine. “I want you to become Sarah’s legal guardian.”

Theresa
Excellent, Theresa! This appeals to the sense of sight, and the bodily sensations of hot and cool, and the sense of (no) movement (the immovable uncle), and the sense of feel (the padded seat). We really get a sense of the atmosphere of this room. Well done!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by pheeweed » Sat Sep 13, 2014 4:28 pm

In "You can't make this stuff up" Lee Gutkind writes about using intimate details to make your non-fiction come alive for the reader. As I understand it, that means adding a descriptive word or a detailed object. For example (mine, not his):

The little bird climbed to the top of the lamp.

The little yellow bird climbed the carved lamp, using its beak as if it were another claw.

The color gives an idea of the kind of bird and the describing the lamp, hopefully, helps the reader picture the action.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by glorybee » Sat Sep 13, 2014 4:31 pm

pheeweed wrote:In "You can't make this stuff up" Lee Gutkind writes about using intimate details to make your non-fiction come alive for the reader. As I understand it, that means adding a descriptive word or a detailed object. For example (mine, not his):

The little bird climbed to the top of the lamp.

The little yellow bird climbed the carved lamp, using its beak as if it were another claw.

The color gives an idea of the kind of bird and the describing the lamp, hopefully, helps the reader picture the action.
Thanks, Phee!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by GeraldShuler » Sun Sep 14, 2014 7:58 am

Jan, here is a poem I wrote several years ago. I am submitting it in this lesson only because I have a question. Are all the guidelines for imagery applicable to poetry? Poetry is already loaded with excessive amounts of imagery, but is it the same standards as what is in any other style of writing? For instance, you said don't push the adjectives too much. In my poetry I use far more adjectives than I do in my short stories but I do it to intensify the image I am trying to place in the reader's mind. The poem I have here is different because I intentionally did not use a lot of imagery because I was leading up to the last line. Can you comment a little about imagery in poetry?

Scent of a Feast

Of all the memories held in store
my fondest is Christmas of '94,
when I first met the family soon to be
my in-laws. It was plain to see
for them the feast was a major event.
As our car pulled up I was met with the scent
of turkey and pastry and other delights
that wafted on breezes like floating kites.
I was nervous, of course, as I met each one
but soon I gave in to just having fun.
I suspect all of them were nervous as well
but I did my best to quickly dispel
anything that would stand in the way
of successfully making it through this day.

Aunt Sally, the hugger, was the first I met
and I'm sure it's a meeting she'll never forget.
As she held me close I whispered “Oh, my!
You certainly bake a good apple pie!”
The gasp in her voice was shock, not glee...
how had I known her specialty?
Mama Franklin was next, she'd baked the bird;
from the wee early hours she could be heard
pulling the turkey from the oven with haste
so she'd not miss a single pre-scheduled baste.
“I look forward to tasting the turkey.” I said.
She blushed so loud I could hear her turn red.

Each handshake or hug I politely endured
'til at last the last person was tactfully lured
into position of meeting the one
that soon would be married to their nephew (or son).
I seemed to have every relative shook
by knowing what each and every one cooked.
I'd not seen the table, spread out for the feast,
nor yet tasted the tidbits of pastry and beast.
Yet I knew... this amazed them, my boyfriend was pleased
that his family adored me. I'd won them with ease.
I'm sure each was prepared to pity my plight
'til they learned I could “see” them without my sight.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by glorybee » Sun Sep 14, 2014 8:22 am

Gerald, I'm replying briefly now just to say that I'll reply more thoughtfully later. Got a houseful of company today, but I'll get to your poem later this evening or tomorrow.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by oursilverstrands » Sun Sep 14, 2014 8:50 pm

I wrote the following prayer from a difficult place in my life when the Challenge topic was Sizzle. While I think it may demonstrate a bit of imagery in a non-fiction article, on the down side I spotted a few clichéd metaphors. I need to avoid that. :D

Not an Easy Prayer

Father,

Let me not shrink from placing my hopes and dreams on the hot coals of surrender and watch them sizzle and evaporate. If that’s what You demand of me, I will not try to put out the flames.

Help me to run from any thought of avoiding the fiery trials that purify my soul. Remove my every desire to search for a way out. May obedience consume me.

Give me the grace to cast my fleshy desires into infinity’s blazing furnace, to listen to the crackle and pop of pride and discontent as they shrivel under fire; and rejoice in hearing You say, “Well done.” Show me how to throw my anxieties and resentments onto the altar of sacrifice and let the flames burn away their influence in my life.

Teach me how to transform the stones that I would throw at others into flints of fire that reduce my unforgiving spirit to smoldering ashes. Let me take Your hand and walk boldly into the Refiner’s fire where I am changed from what I am to what You want me to be.

No fire escapes, Lord, until I am as pure gold


Lillian
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"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by glorybee » Mon Sep 15, 2014 1:10 am

JayDavidKing wrote: Are all the guidelines for imagery applicable to poetry? Poetry is already loaded with excessive amounts of imagery, but is it the same standards as what is in any other style of writing? For instance, you said don't push the adjectives too much. In my poetry I use far more adjectives than I do in my short stories but I do it to intensify the image I am trying to place in the reader's mind. [/i]
Gerald, this is a difficult question for me to answer, because you seem to be asking for a rule or a formula, and of all the writing arts, poetry is the one for which rules and formulas are least applicable. In my opinion, many writers of free verse tend to either 1) be very abstract, or 2) write their free verse poetry in a way that differs very little from prose except for line arrangement. So for free verse, imagery is an important tool, to be used alongside several other tools that distinguish poetry from prose (repetition, onomatopoeia, altered syntax, alliteration, consonance and assonance, symbolism, personification--the list could go on and on). Without those things, the poet might just as well write paragraphs.

In rhymed and metered poetry, imagery is also important, and you've done a superb job in this poem. I had a similar twist in one of my early entries: Even Though, with a huge error in the 5th paragraph (can you find it?). And like you, I tried to use imagery other than visual imagery.

If using adjectives is the way that you are best able to appeal to your readers' senses, then go for it.

I'm not sure I agree with your statement that "poetry is already loaded with excessive amounts of imagery," especially of the world "excessive." It's a bit of a generalization, and really depends on the poet and the particular poem. I do agree that poets may tend to be more florid in their word usage--but I've read an awful lot of purple prose, too. I think it might be more accurate to say that some writers--whether writers of prose or of poetry--use too many adjectives, while some are judicious in their use, finding just the right adjectives to convey an image without going overboard. But there's certainly no general statement like "poetry should be 10 - 13% adjectives" that I can give you.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by glorybee » Mon Sep 15, 2014 1:14 am

Lillian, your bit of writing appeals very strongly to the senses of hearing and also of bodily sensations. Thank you so much for sharing it here as an excellent example of imagery in nonfiction.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by oursilverstrands » Mon Sep 15, 2014 8:10 am

Jan wrote:Lillian, your bit of writing appeals very strongly to the senses of hearing and also of bodily sensations. Any ideas for future lessons? Post them here, or leave me a message.
Jan, would the piece also fall under the heading of "Creative Non-Fiction?" I'm not sure if you've had a lesson on that topic, but if you have, please indicate the link.

Thanks.

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I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by glorybee » Mon Sep 15, 2014 8:40 am

Lillian, I haven't done a lesson with the specific topic of creative nonfiction, but I'm not sure that it would be substantially different from lessons on some of the related but more specific topics: the recent ones on biography and memoir come to mind, and the earlier lesson on writing devotionals. In all of those, I mentioned things that I'd just be repeating in a creative nonfiction lesson.

I'll do some research, though, and if I can glean enough that would differ significantly from things that I've previously written, I'll definitely present a lesson on creative nonfiction. Thanks for the idea!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by Verna » Mon Sep 15, 2014 1:34 pm

Jan, I like your examples of imagery.

Here's a pair from a poem I was working on this morning:
The trees are colorful with the mountain behind them all black.

Psychedelic images flash against
Black serrated border.

I would love to see a lesson on free verse. In a recent challenge, I entered a poem that did not rhyme or have a consistent rhythm. It appeared to some to be prose, though it was in lines and contained personifications, assonance, alliteration, and similes, along with imagery of sight and touch and sound, plus emotion. Granted, I might have used some less common phrases, and I needed to tighten it more.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by glorybee » Mon Sep 15, 2014 1:46 pm

Thanks for sharing your examples, Verna! I could definitely "see" the images your portrayed.

I have a lesson on free verse from several years ago, and I'll find and refresh it in the coming week or two.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by Verna » Mon Sep 15, 2014 1:55 pm

I wish I'd read your lesson before I sent this poem to a contest! It was written as seen through a car window. When I revise it, thought, I'll get out of the car and add some bird song and leaves crunching underfoot, as well as smells of the forest. Again, you are a valuable help to my writing!
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