Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I Is for Imagery

Imagery is painting pictures with words in order to make the reading experience more vivid for readers. You want your readers to see what your characters see, hear what they hear and feel what they feel. It’s showing emotions in concrete ways.

According to the dictionary (Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary), it’s “Mental pictures or images; the use of vivid description or figures of speech in speaking or writing to produce mental images; A metaphoric representation, as in music, art, or drama; Representative images, especially statues or icons; The art of making such images.”

How we create imagery in our writing takes skill and practice. Sometimes it involves showing, rather than telling. It’s the use, but not the overuse, of adjectives and adverbs to draw our verbal pictures. It requires us to avoid clich├ęs and trite phrases, and to create new ways of describing mundane things.

Here’s an opening paragraph I created for my work-in-progress. Tell me what you think of the imagery.

Rain poured onto the Manhattan sidewalk in silver satin sheets. Cars splashed water onto the ankles of passersby with enough force to soak through the pant legs of irritated men and puddle inside the high-heeled shoes of unprepared women caught in the storm. Umbrellas prodded one another for space as people rushed from offices to subways, huddled in doorways and flagged down already full taxis in futile efforts to avoid the rain. Muttered curses at the weather mingled with hoarse apologies as commuters bumped against one another in their hurry to get somewhere—anywhere—dry. But those sounds were muted by the shuck-shuck-shuck of windshield wipers and the squeal of brakes on slippery streets.


  1. I'm more coherent now, Jen. I love these evocative descriptions.
    I was wondering if you could rank them--1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

  2. Ah ha! Now I understand. Okay, but keep in mind it's just my opinion (and a little hard since they're meant to be 1 paragraph). Here goes:

    Ranking in order of most imagery to least:

    1) Umbrellas prodded...
    2) Cars splashed...
    3) Rain poured...
    4) But those...
    5) Muttered curses...

  3. I think that's great imagery, Jen. My favourite is the cars splashing people's ankles.

  4. Thank you, Paula. I like that one, although I think my favorite is the windshield wipers.

  5. Nice!

    My favorite phrasings were these:

    -silver satin sheets of rain
    -the shuck, shuck, shuck of the windshielf wipers

    And I like how the umbrellas are prodding.

    Great examples...great opening paragraph...I'd definitely read on!

  6. Thanks Debra. Good to know you'd read it--hopefully others will agree someday!