Writers create myriad worlds in their mind’s eye and use the magic of their words to transport the readers into those realms of the imagination. However, just any words won’t do! Writing is a craft and a master knows how to use the mundane to create excellence.
Don’t take my word for it. Let me describe a scene for you while you let yourself free to experience it.
A mountain is visible when I sit near my window. It is very tall and bluish in colour. The sky in the summer is even more blue than the mountain.
I am sure you can see the mountain in your imagination too. Now read this.
I sat on my windowsill contemplating the towering mountain with almost unseeing eyes. I didn’t really need to look up to know that it’s bluish tones made the summer sky look even more blue.
How does that grab you? Can you see the mountain better? Can you also feel the laziness of the summer day under that clear sky?
That’s what you as a writer can do with imagery. You can make the readers see not merely with their eyes but with all their senses. And then, you can take them further and make them feel and experience the moment.
What is Imagery?
Imagery, simply put, is the use of words to recreate a world that is not only seen but felt deeply with all five senses and also produces an emotional response in the reader.
Types of Imagery
Many types of imagery can be used to produce a complete sensory experience for the reader. Here is a list of some major types that you can use.
As the name suggests, it is the recreation of visuals in the reader’s imagination. It appeals to the sense of sight.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Daffodils (By William Wordsworth)
This brings to life the sounds of the scene.
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
To Autumn (By John Keats)
Words that evoke the smells of things like fruits, food, the first rain form a part of the olfactory imagery.
I woke up to the smell of coffee wafting into my nose infusing me with a sweet warmth.
When words bring alive the taste of things, they are creating gustatory imagery in your writing.
The tang of lemon on his melt-in-the-mouth grilled fish was a little bit of heaven.
This deals with the sense of touch and uses words that recreate textures, warmth etc.
I grew by degrees cold as a stone, and then my courage sank. My habitual mood of humiliation, self-doubt, forlorn depression, fell damp on the embers of my decaying ire.
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
This uses words to show movement.
“The vast swells of the omnipotent sea; the surging, hollow roar they made, as they rolled along the eight gunwales, like gigantic bowls in a boundless bowling-green; the brief suspended agony of the boat, as it would tip for an instant on the knife-like edge of the sharper waves, that almost seemed threatening to cut it in two; the sudden profound dip into the watery glens and hollows…
Moby Dick, Herman Mellville
This uses words to bring alive emotions attached to the moment.
“The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering, unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.”
The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
How to add imagery to your writing
Imagery is helped along by various other devices like onomatopoeia, metaphors and similes all of which creates multi-dimensional pictures in the reader’s mind. Here’s how you can consciously add imagery to your writing.
1. Build a word bank.
This should ideally be the first step. However this could also be the second one until you have built your word bank sufficiently.
- Close your eyes and imagine the scene that you want to write about. Write down the words that come to mind. They could be words that describe the scene or the feelings that it produces within you.
- Revisit the smell that you want to write about, like the morning cup of coffee, the fragrance of your partner, the smell of the first rain… the list is limitless. Again, write the words that come to mind while you are experiencing the smell.
- Close your eyes while you eat and record the words that describe the gustatory experience.
- Record how various textures make you feel.
- Look at or feel a movement. Now let the rhythm and sound of your words describe the motion, its urgency etc.
- Listen to or imagine sounds. Write words that describe a sound, that mimic a sound or those that speak about the sensory experience of the sound.
- Think about the emotions that are projected in your scene. Write words that come to mind as you relate to the emotion.
Make a collection of these words and phrases in a small notebook or on a digital device. You can look for these words deliberately according to what you need to write but there is a better way. I call it the writer’s way. Keep this notebook handy at all times. Whenever you are confronted with an interesting image that tickles your senses, keep recording the words. Build a bank of words to be used whenever you need.
2. Get your scene ready.
Chalk out your scene. Create an outline. Dig out the words from your word bank that would be suitable. Read through them a few times to get familiar with them. Add a few more related words if you wish. Now the scene is ready to be written.
3. Write and embellish.
When you begin to write, create your sentences around these words and build the images that bring the scene to life. Try and engage at least two or three senses to create a multi-dimensional image.
Add a literary device or two like a simile, a metaphor, onomatopoeia, repetition, or whatever else you like. A little embellishment can instantly take your writing a few notches upwards but remember not to overdo it. We don’t want every sentence to be laden with decoration like a Christmas Tree! Use what feels like a natural extension of the image you are creating.
Edit. Edit some more. And you are ready to go!
If you need a little nudge to begin, you can have a look at my writing prompts to start you off on your writing journey.
Have more ideas to add to mine? Share them. I would love to hear from you.
Share your imagery masterpieces in the comments or leave a link to your posts.