Imagine That

Imagery takes a person, place, or thing and puts them in context for the reader. It aids us in getting to know an unfamiliar character by giving us, the reader, the sense of walking around in someone else’s shoes.  Not only through sight and sound, but what she tastes, touches, and smells. By using the senses you can create a clear and specific image, a certain tone or mood. It’s in the use of strong verbs and specific nouns and enhancing the right, not every, detail.

When I think of imagery, I think of this passage. I can picture that mass herd of caribou as a living entity as it swarms and moves over the land. I can feel the tiredness of the couple as they try to keep up day after day. It speaks to me and it paints that picture we writers strive to create for our readers.

 “And they came in waves. Streams of animals pouring like some liquid over the hilltops, expanding, contracting, spreading across ridge crests and passes. We followed for as long as we could each day, were overtaken when we camped for the night, and dragged our leaden limbs out of frosted sleeping bags in the mornings, to start a day of trying to keep up, all over again.” -Karsten Heuer from first weeks “Being Caribou”

So, I’m reminded that as I revise it’s not simply a tree but a specific kind of tree. Perhaps it’s a ripped Grateful Dead t-shirt instead of a shirt. It’s the corner of East Hastings Street and Gore Avenue not down the street. It may be a gun, but it’s also a specific make and model. That guy is not simply homeless. He’s called Chain Man for the ropes of chains looped around his neck. It’s his job to carry those chains, day in and day out, on the streets of Eastside Vancouver. Rain or shine, like a mail carrier with his bag of mail.

Be the image ugly or beautiful, the trick is to have it appear natural and in character. Not simply a niffy sounding descriptor, but true to my voice and style as a writer. There is no need to bedazzle the reader with my genius and clever hand with literary devices. They are useful only in their ability to help enhance the reality of the situation. Kind of like how we use salt and pepper to season a plate of food. We don’t need to pour them over every morsel. We taste first and see where it can be used to improve the favor using a delicate shake or one twist of the grinder.

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,

And the highwayman came riding–


The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door

 Do you have a favorite author with a talent for imagery? A movie you’re willing to watch over and over again for the scenery? (Mine’s Pride and Prejudice) What’s your best loves literary device?

2 thoughts on “Imagine That

  1. Love The Highwayman – it evokes such a mood. When I’m writing a scene, I always have to remind myself to use all my senses. I think most authors rely on vision and hearing, but smell can be tremendously powerful. Great blog, Karyn.

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