Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by swfdoc1 » Tue Sep 16, 2014 12:14 pm

Here’s a pair of sentences. As for process, I guess I just thought about a sentence that would already have some imagery in it and then tried to add details to the main idea to really get the reader’s brain firing.

Todd awoke to the wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen.

Todd’s eyes fluttered open. An unknown smile spread across his lips as he luxuriated in the waves of aroma wafting from the kitchen: the wondrously smoky-greasy smell of bacon; the warm, rich fragrance of coffee; and gently capping it all off, a sweet hint of cinnamon rolls.
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“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by glorybee » Tue Sep 16, 2014 12:48 pm

swfdoc1 wrote:Here’s a pair of sentences. As for process, I guess I just thought about a sentence that would already have some imagery in it and then tried to add details to the main idea to really get the reader’s brain firing.

Todd awoke to the wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen.

Todd’s eyes fluttered open. An unknown smile spread across his lips as he luxuriated in the waves of aroma wafting from the kitchen: the wondrously smoky-greasy smell of bacon; the warm, rich fragrance of coffee; and gently capping it all off, a sweet hint of cinnamon rolls.
Spoken as a person who had two dry granola bars for breakfast: thanks a lot.

The editor in me is itching to pare down your sentences a bit, but that's purely personal preference. This is how I'd write it:

Todd's eyes flew open. A smile spread across his lips as he luxuriated in the waves of aroma wafting from the kitchen: the smoky-greasy smell of bacon; the warm, rich fragrance of coffee, and a sweet hint of cinnamon rolls.

But then again, I'm a ruthless word surgeon. There's nothing wrong with your version.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by oursilverstrands » Tue Sep 16, 2014 1:43 pm

Steve wrote:Todd’s eyes fluttered open. An unknown smile spread across his lips as he luxuriated in the waves of aroma wafting from the kitchen: the wondrously smoky-greasy smell of bacon; the warm, rich fragrance of coffee; and gently capping it all off, a sweet hint of cinnamon rolls.
Jan wrote:There's nothing wrong with your version.

I'm just wondering...I'm not questioning the "wrongness" of Steve's sentence, but from a reader's (that's me) standpoint, a paring away of some words like "unknown" and "wondrously" seems right.

When I read it, I thought of your first "caution" rule that suggested the avoidance of overkill.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by glorybee » Tue Sep 16, 2014 1:48 pm

Well, hopefully Steve will weigh in with his opinion of my edits. Some people really love their adjectives; I'm editing a MS right now with thousands of them. I'd snip away 80% of them, but I don't want her to lose her distinctive voice, so I let her keep more than I'd like to.

When I said nothing was wrong, I was really thinking grammatically wrong--but adjective overkill could be considered wrong, too--I guess.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by swfdoc1 » Tue Sep 16, 2014 2:34 pm

Well, even when I write multiple drafts of something (that will be submitted to an editor), I expect to get corrections (and/or suggestions); I certainly expect it when I dash something off, as I did here. (I think I made 2 changes from my original banging-out.)

Since you asked, Jan, here are my thoughts on your edits. (Note that even when I dash something off, I tend to be a fairly deliberate writer, so my comments will reflect what I was thinking as I wrote.)

The easiest one first: eliminating “wondrously.” Here you caught one of my little cheats. The initial description of the bacon smell was just “greasy.” But then I (over?) thought about it: “everyone” loves the smell of bacon, but if I just write “greasy,” will the reader have a negative reaction and/or come to a grinding halt over it? So I changed it to “wondrously smoky-greasy.” Certainly that little cheat can/should come out.

Changing “fluttered” to “flew”: “Fluttered” represented my (limited and possibly wrong) understanding of the science of how pleasant smells can really wake people. If I got this change back from an editor in another context, I would probably research it a bit more & if I were correct, argue it.

Eliminating “unknown”: My use of “unknown” was driven by 2 things. First, as with the last comment, my understanding of how we wake to smells. But this one was more of a guess. Second, my POV. I was trying to give the reader a sense of “observing” Todd and “knowing” things about his physical reaction that even he didn’t know. Having said that, I doubt I would fight over this with an editor since most of this is implicit when you take the word out.

Eliminating “gently capping it all off,”: What I was trying to capture here was that the cinnamon smell was almost--but not quite--drown out by the more powerful smells. I think I might either accept the editor’s change or I might engage her about what I was trying to do & whether it was worth it, and if so, whether there was a better way to do it. Quite frankly, I think the longer the work, the more likely I would be to just accept it; the shorter, the more likely to engage.

BTW, I said I made 2 changes. In case anyone is interested, here’s the other one: I originally wrote “warm, rich aroma of coffee.” I changed to “fragrance” to avoid repeating “aroma” from the prior sentence.

Another BTW: I agree with Jan about adjectives and adverbs. I generally cut them in my own and others’ writing, although I will break this, like any “rule,” for good reason.
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“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by glorybee » Tue Sep 16, 2014 5:36 pm

Thanks for responding, Steve. If any of you reading this have never been edited, perhaps this exchange between Steve and me can show you, in miniature, what the editing process looks like. And when we say 'argue' or 'fight,' please know that it never comes to actual blows, or even harsh words. A person might ask me, 'why did you do [this particular edit]--I really like that [word, passage, scene]?' I tell the writer my thoughts and reasons, and let him or her have the final say. And it's rarely over something as small as using 'fluttered' or 'flew.'
swfdoc1 wrote: Changing “fluttered” to “flew”: “Fluttered” represented my (limited and possibly wrong) understanding of the science of how pleasant smells can really wake people. If I got this change back from an editor in another context, I would probably research it a bit more & if I were correct, argue it.
I replaced 'fluttered' with 'flew' because 'fluttered' seems like a kind of girly thing for eyes to do. But I wouldn't fight with an edit-ee about it.
swfdoc1 wrote:Eliminating “unknown”: My use of “unknown” was driven by 2 things. First, as with the last comment, my understanding of how we wake to smells. But this one was more of a guess. Second, my POV. I was trying to give the reader a sense of “observing” Todd and “knowing” things about his physical reaction that even he didn’t know. Having said that, I doubt I would fight over this with an editor since most of this is implicit when you take the word out.
I'd fight to keep this out. The phrase 'unknown smile' seems kind of meaningless to me. Everyone knows what a smile is. The readers might not immediately know what Todd's smiling about, but that's not really their place. If Todd's wife was there with him, she could wonder what he was smiling about--but if that's the case, who just cooked that wonderful breakfast? And the fact is, she's not there.
swfdoc1 wrote:Eliminating “gently capping it all off,”: What I was trying to capture here was that the cinnamon smell was almost--but not quite--drown out by the more powerful smells. I think I might either accept the editor’s change or I might engage her about what I was trying to do & whether it was worth it, and if so, whether there was a better way to do it. Quite frankly, I think the longer the work, the more likely I would be to just accept it; the shorter, the more likely to engage.
To me, it was just wordy. The hint of cinnamon rolls was the last item in the list, so "capping it all off" seemed redundant. But I wouldn't fight over that one, either.

Steve, you're a great sport!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by swfdoc1 » Tue Sep 16, 2014 7:05 pm

Jan,

Great stuff!

Your point about ‘fluttered” vs. “flew” is interesting. I never considered the “girly” issue. This shows the value of editors and/or (preferably “and”) beta readers. If I got this feedback elsewhere, I would probably counter with “What about ‘Todd’s eyes BLINKED open’”? What do you think?

As noted in my prior post, I wouldn’t/probably wouldn’t dig in over either of the other 2. BUT your comment about “unknown” would be/is interesting.

It is so easy to write something other than what we mean. You write that the phrase “'unknown smile' seems kind of meaningless to me. Everyone knows what a smile is.” When I wrote “An unknown smile spread across his lips” I meant “Unbeknownst to Todd, a smile spread across his lips”; and I would have suggested that as a re-write.

Now, as the editor, you might still have wanted to reject the re-write for the same and/or different reasons (and I bet you would), but—based on your original comment about “unknown smile”—I would have learned a lesson as a writer, no matter what you thought of the re-write.

(It’s easy to be a good sport when you’re having fun!)
Steve
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“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by glorybee » Tue Sep 16, 2014 8:24 pm

I dunno--I think of "blinked" as meaning "closed the eyes rapidly and then opened them again," so "blinked open" doesn't really work for me.

Put up yer dukes.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by oursilverstrands » Tue Sep 16, 2014 8:47 pm

Steve wrote:When I wrote “An unknown smile spread across his lips” I meant “Unbeknownst to Todd, a smile spread across his lips”;
I'm just an innocent bystander in the fray, but can you smile without knowing it?

Lillian :D
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by glorybee » Tue Sep 16, 2014 8:49 pm

lish1936 wrote:
Steve wrote:When I wrote “An unknown smile spread across his lips” I meant “Unbeknownst to Todd, a smile spread across his lips”;
I'm just an innocent bystander in the fray, but can you smile without knowing it?

Lillian :D
SNAP!

Take that, Steve!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by CatLin » Tue Sep 16, 2014 10:11 pm

I'm loving the edit exchange! I agree with Steve about "flutter". "Flew" changes the scene from the smell of breakfast gradually waking him up to jolting him awake. But I agree with Jan that it's girlie. :) Maybe "flicker"?

Okay, for homework...two sentences off the cuff. This event actually just happened. I took a video. :) In the first sentence, I announced the event. In the second, I tried to describe what it was like to experience it. Hard to condense into one sentence :)

A flock of geese flew over my house this evening, honking all the way.

A squawking chorus heralded the flock's coming, and the cacophony reached a crescendo as the wavering V of geese flew over my house then faded away as they disappeared into the flaming sunset.



And here's an early attempt of to "show" from a 2009 challenge entry I think it's an example of imagery. :)

The dark squeezed Katie like a vice, and tethers of fear constricted her lungs. Somewhere behind her, an orchestra of wails and screeches created a symphony of terror that chased her onward. She didn’t know what horror concealed in the inky murk could be making those sounds, but she knew she had to escape. Her legs propelled her onward, and her arms scrabbled into the black as she stumbled forward over the uneven surface..

This short poem, also dashed off for a Jan Assignment, doesn't have a lot of adjectives, but I think it's full of imagery.
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As much as possible, I try to use verbs and nouns that don't require adverbs and adjectives to create an image. (I might tend to go overboard on occasion?) Word choices can make a ho hum scene come alive in 3-D Hi Def. Did you enjoy the meal, or did you relish it? devour it? savor it? My penny and a half, for what it's worth. (Inflation and all, you know.)

(ps: I've been writing this for so long, in between husband, Jeopardy, dogs. Outlander, dogs, husband, and AGT, that I think I'm behind in the posts.)
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by swfdoc1 » Tue Sep 16, 2014 10:12 pm

Jan,

Well, I could play the writer’s nuclear but (usually) stupid card: “you’re fire…” :D

Googling “blinked open” produces 370,000+ hits so people use it. (But that doesn’t mean a writer should.)

But to go to the heart of the writer-editor debate, as I indicated, I would dig in only if my research showed that I was correct that pleasant smells awaken us slowly. If that’s true, I would work with my editor to find SOME substitute for “flew open.” “Todd rolled over. His eyes slowly opened but refused to focus.” It wouldn’t even have to be about his eyes. Just something about GRADUALLY sensing the aromas.

Lillian (and Jan),

Smile without knowing it? Absolutely. I have been on both sides of this conversation MANY times:

“What are you smiling about?”

“Oh, was I smiling?” OR “Oh, I didn’t know I was.” OR [Embarrassed blush] “Nothing!”

Also, have you ever played Poker? How many people’s “tell” is a smile?

Snip, snap, snop! :D
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“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by CatLin » Tue Sep 16, 2014 10:19 pm

I also stumbled a bit reading "unknown smile", but the explanation helped. I've awakened with a smile on my lips before, so I know what you mean. Maybe "unconscious"?
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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by swfdoc1 » Tue Sep 16, 2014 10:21 pm

CatLin wrote:I also stumbled a bit reading "unknown smile", but the explanation helped. I've awakened with a smile on my lips before, so I know what you mean. Maybe "unconscious"?
Yes, that's better & many other things might work better than my original.
Steve
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"When the Round Table is broken every man must follow Galahad or Mordred; middle
things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Re: Be a Better Writer--USING IMAGERY

Post by glorybee » Tue Sep 16, 2014 10:22 pm

Cat, I loved all three of your examples, and the little poem is my favorite, I think.

By the way, do you know why, when geese fly in a V formation, one leg of the V is longer than the other?

The answer is below:

*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
There are more geese in it.
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