Improve Your Writing: Imagery

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When you hear the term “imagery,” you might groan thinking about the over-the-top descriptions you have analysed in poetry. But imagery should not just be limited to poetry; you can use it to enhance your writing and draw the reader in. Ever heard the phrase “lost in a book”? This involves not just connecting to a character’s emotions but also feeling as if you are in the moment experiencing their world with them. There are many types of imagery: visual (sight), auditory (sound), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), kinaesthetic (movement, action), organic (bodily feelings like exhaustion). This means that you can pretty much always add some more sensations into your writing! Here are some tips to add imagery to your writing. The key is to “sneak” it into dialogue and action instead of overwhelming the reader with long, tiresome descriptions.

  • Your story should be about telling the story! Don’t pause the action for the sake of imagery.

o   Instead of stopping for a long description: She hopped off of the bus and surveyed the surrounding farm. The stench of cow poop wafted through the air, and the wind rustled the tall blades of wheat that seemed to extend as far as the eye could see. Her classmates were jabbering in small groups, excited to be on a field trip and not stuck inside.

o   Try mixing imagery with action: She hopped off the bus, her right foot immediately plunging into a stinky wad of cow poop. She wrinkled her nose as she ran to catch up with her classmates, whose words blended in the air as they all chattered excitedly in their small groups. Their teacher introduced them to Farmer Joe, who told them that this was primarily a wheat farm as he gestured to the endless stalks rustling in the wind.

  • Insert imagery in smaller bits. Ideally, your imagery goes unnoticed, flying under the radar as readers are swept up in the story. The example above was used to demonstrate how to mix imagery and action, but there is no need to use that much imagery in each paragraph. Additionally, certain parts of your story will need more imagery than others. Situations in which a character arrives somewhere new or is in the middle of a high stakes challenge will require more imagery than moments in which a character is reflecting on their emotions or in a more subdued situation.
  • Use imagery from the character’s point of view, not your own.

o   Instead of: The soup had a rich, meaty smell and the noodles were perfectly soft with just enough bite.

o   Try imagining what the character experiences: George licked his lips, breathing in the warm smell of the chicken soup. He took a big bite, and his teeth sliced right through the noodles with minimal resistance.

  • Use action verbs and adjective/noun forms of action verbs. This is an easy way to “sneak in” imagery, like we were talking about.

o   Instead of:  The monkey left the tree and landed on the soft ground.

o   Try: The monkey leapt from the tree, landing on the springy ground with a soft thud. (leap, spring, and thud are all action verbs or other forms of the action verb)

  •  Use the characters actions as imagery. For example, in the above example about the soup, George’s licking his lips alerts us to the fact that the soup smells appealing. In the example above about the farm, the character’s wrinkling her nose shows that the smell of cow poop lingers. Use these to “trick” your reader into absorbing a lot more imagery than would normally be in a passage. Avoid phrases like “seemed,” “looked like” and “causing,” which signal to the reader that you are using imagery.

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