Pervasive chatter, advertising, political rhetoric and messages surround us. We feel assaulted, overloaded. In self-defense we’ve learned to disregard and/or forget much of what we read and hear.
You want your writing to stand out as something worth noticing. You don’t want readers to see your words as just noise contributing to the clamor.
Imagine your readers as a flock of gulls, spiraling in the sky. You don’t want them to glance at you indifferently and fly on. You want to offer them a juicy shell fish, to tempt them to swoop down, to eat out of your outstretched hand.
That analogy–readers as seagulls; writers as those who feed them–is an image.
Imagery conjures for the reader sensory experiences.
Writing devoid of imagery is dry and difficult to comprehend. When your readers smell, taste, touch, hear, or see (shapes, colors, movement), they are working with you, collaborating, participating. They create from your words something meaningful, something to which they can relate.
It really is all about relationships.
When readers relate to your words, they breathe life into them. Your writing is enlivened by your readers’ consciousness of it; your writing sparkles like fresh dew on the morning grass, full of the promise of growth.
Sparkling words–that’s another image.
Perhaps you already know about the necessity of bringing sensory perception to your writing. It’s one of the first thing a writer learns. Show, don’t tell, the instructors cajole.
So writers fill their pages with sensory descriptives. Coffee aroma wafts, thrushes sing, silk brushes skin, hair is shocking pink, lemon puckers a mouth. That’s sense perception, but that’s not quite what we’re looking for in imagery. Imagery is more than a catalogue of perceptions.
Imagery makes important connections, causes us see the world fresh and new.
As Robert Bly says in his essay The Image as a Form of Intelligence, “The power of the image is the power of seeing resemblances.”**
Imagery relies on simile, metaphor and analogy.
For a terrific tutorial in how a skilled writer incorporates imagery into her work, read any of Barabara Kingsolver’s novels with a highlighter in your hand. Mark where she compares one thing to another. She’s the queen of analogy. Practically every page will be well marked!
And subscribe to this site for ongoing discussion about how to craft analogies, as we explore what gets a writer inspired, motivated, drafting, revising and publishing.
At what stage are you in your writing journey?
**Bly’s essay first appeared in FIELD #24 (Spring 1981) and is reprinted in A Field Guide to Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, edited by Stuart Friebert, David Walker and David Young.