Hello HFA Readers!
It has been some time since I penned a blog post. Life is indeed busy and sometimes I allow the excuse of work, family, exhaustion and whatever other trials have been thrown in my literary path to stop me from doing what I love, writing. But, I have made a commitment to myself to find space, however small or short it maybe, to write. Hence, this blog post. “Write in Images”.
No, this is not a post about time management or writer’s block. This is, for those of you who are attempting this perilous journey of writing a novel, a suggestion for how to bring your novel’s character and world into sharp view, much like a beautiful photograph does. Writing is not for the feint of heart, the “I’m-thinking-of-writing- a-Novel”, the “I’ll-write-a-novel-when” or the “I’m-not-good-enough-yet” writers. Writing is for those who are going to sit in the seat, open up your computer, and press the keys on your keyboard. Yes, it will be crap! (Sorry, truth hurts). But, the first draft always is an ugly little thing that needs a good path, the proper hair cut and an outfit that fits their body style and personality. (This part is called editing. I, personally, love the editing part of a novel). But, let’s stick to getting down your first draft for now. And this post is about creating vivid images that will captivate your reader.
Readers want to be lost in a different world. A world far from their own, but one that they can still relate to. In order to build an immersive world for your reader, you must yourself intimately know your novel’s world. We, as humans, understand our own world through our five senses – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. We take in the stimuli around us, process it and develop awareness, understanding, love and fear from our experiences. This is why your own writing must create images that explore or utilizes the reader’s five senses to engage them in the story, connect them with your protagonist and antagonist. Images are powerful tools that will draw in your reader, hold them captive in your literary world until the final word on the last page.
So how do you do you write in images? Try a few of the exercises below and see if this doesn’t help. A word of caution here: too much description, is…too much. Learn to write, with what I teach my students, “Word Economy”. Say more with less words. There is power in words but often it is said more powerfully in a few words than in a few hundred words.
Before you try the exercises, here are a few examples from some wonderful novels or poetry that use the the five senses to create powerful images.
by George Orwell
Outside, even through the shut window-pane, the world looked cold. Down in the street little eddies of wind were whirling dust and torn paper into spirals, and though the sun was shining and the sky a harsh blue, there seemed to be no colour in anything, except the posters that were plastered everywhere. The black mustachioed face gazed down from every commanding corner. There was one on the house-front immediately opposite. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption said, while the dark eyes looked deep into Winston’s own. Down at street level another poster, torn at one corner, flapped fitfully in the wind, alternately covering and uncovering the single word INGSOC. In the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a bluebottle, and darted away again with a curving flight.
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
by Robert Frost
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
By Patrick Suskind
In the period of which we speak, there reigned in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women. The streets stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the stairwells stank of moldering wood and rat droppings, the kitchens of spoiled cabbage and mutton fat; the unaired parlors stank of stale dust, the bedrooms of greasy sheets, damp featherbeds, and the pungently sweet aroma of chamber pots. The stench of sulfur rose from the chimneys, the stench of caustic lyes from the tanneries, and from the slaughterhouses came the stench of congealed blood. People stank of sweat and unwashed clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth, from their bellies that of onions, and from their bodies, if they were no longer very young, came the stench of rancid cheese and sour milk and tumorous disease.
(Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind
One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez
On rainy afternoons, embroidering with a group of friends on the begonia porch, she would lose the thread of the conversation and a tear of nostalgia would salt her palate when she saw the strips of damp earth and the piles of mud that the earthworms had pushed up in the garden. Those secret tastes, defeated in the past by oranges and rhubarb, broke out into an irrepressible urge when she began to weep. She went back to eating earth. The first time she did it almost out of curiosity, sure that the bad taste would be the best cure for the temptation. And, in fact, she could not bear the earth in her mouth. But she persevered, overcome by the growing anxiety, and little by little she was getting back her ancestral appetite, the taste of primary minerals, the unbridled satisfaction of what was the original food.
The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
I stood mesmerized by the heat and luscious scent until the rain interfered, running its icy fingers down my back, forcing me back to life.
- Sight: Begin by looking at something. Really try to see it for the first time. Now try to describe it with clear and specific colors, the way it moves, its shape, its texture, the way the light hits it. Avoid over used words or words that lack clarity. Instead of blue what shade of blue?
- Sound. Now, close your eyes. Listen. What do you hear? How does it sound? What does it remind you of? Sounds can tell your reader where they are. Sounds can also tell a character where they are (think of someone in a mystery novel, with a cloth tied around there eyes, and yet when the listen they can hear the gravel under the car wheels, the creak of the old iron gate, the crack of the wooden floor as they climb down the stairs). Sound is a critical element in writing scenes.
- Smell: How many times has a particularly aroma taken you back to a moment in your life? This is true of our characters too. Smells also identify people or types of people, places, settings, historical moments and even time periods. So take a big whiff. Now, write it down. Smell a flower. Describe it. Smell a person (just make sure its someone you know, or the person may give you a good slap for getting to close and personal with them!). Smell as many things and then write down the aroma. As with other senses, be as descriptive as possible. The more accurate the words you choose, the clear your character and their world will become.
- Taste: I think this is likely everyone’s favourite sense! And yes, I am going to ask you to taste things, taste them for the first time. And write what they do to your tongue, how your body response, what the flavour is like, what it is similar to. Try a variety of things from chocolate to a lemon, burnt toast to pumpkin pie. Each time striving to be as specific and precise in your description.
- Tough: Touch a variety of textures (may I suggest you avoid porcupines and bees!) and then find the key ways of vividly describing these things for your reader. Imagine you have never touch these things before- this will help you word choice to be more accurate and tangible for your reader. And don’t forget the invisible things of our world – the feeling of love, hate, fear, trust, friendship, loneliness and so forth. These touchy-feelings are essential to developing character motivation, realism and reader connectivity.
Have fun as you explore the fives senses. Remember, you do not have to use all the senses in all your scenes all the time. That would just be sensory overload. Instead, choose what sense would best be suited for the scene and, using word economy, create the strongest image using the most powerful, and fewest, words as you can.
Until Next time…