How are Imagery and Description Different?
Description is how you convey your story, explain what’s going on, and tell the reader what will happen. It’s 90% of your writing. Imagery is that flash of sunlight on moving water; it’s there, it’s bright, then it’s gone. It’s like sprinkles mixed in with cake batter—wonderful bursts of color to emphasize the beauty of a delicious treat. (I love sprinkles. I had to work them in somehow.)
Description is the whole paragraph below. I underlined the part we will use in the imagery example:
Amelia drew a sip from her glass of port wine, flooding her mouth with the sweet tang of alcohol. The evening news played in the background. What it said, she did not hear. Her mind was on Johnny, and his large hands with knobby mechanic’s knuckles. In her mind, Johnny’s hands were on her face, holding it in *the gentle way he used to. Swiping the pads of his thumbs over the ridges of her cheekbones, drying the bitter tears, he’d tell her, Hey, kid. It’s all gonna be okay.
Imagery is like this:
Amelia drew a sip from her glass of port wine, flooding her mouth with the sweet tang of alcohol. The evening news played in the background. What it said, she did not hear. Her mind was on Johnny, and his large hands with knobby mechanic’s knuckles. In her mind, Johnny’s hands were on her face, *holding it with the sensitivity one would treat a robin’s sky-blue eggshell. Swiping the pads of his thumbs over the ridges of her cheekbones, drying the bitter tears, he’d tell her, Hey, kid. It’s all gonna be okay.
Now I’m not a romance writer so don’t pay too much attention to the sappy writing. My point is, comparing Amelia to the fragile shell of a tiny robin’s egg can convey a more emotional meaning through subtext. Amelia might be feeling very fragile right now, needing tenderness and longing to be held by Johnny again because she’s close to breaking.
Making Images Personal
Whether you’re writing in first person or third, tonal consistency is the key to spinning an immersive web of fiction. Deep POV is (to be cliché) a delicate balancing act between the narrator’s voice and the author’s authority to accurately describe what is taking place.
Implementing Deep POV imagery is a chance to delve into your character’s deepest, most personal thoughts and memories without having to quote them or explain what’s going on in their head. Imagery is that moment when someone we find to be friendly and likable smiles, and a happy, dopey-eyed golden retriever pops into mind. It’s not really a thought, but an image, and it’s unique to how our brains are wired.
Think of the words your character would use. The memories they would draw from. How would an amputee ex-soldier who hunted with his father as a child describe the noise of an outdoor shooting range? Would he say it reminded him of oversized confetti poppers at colorful birthday parties, or would he compare the experience to the unease of wearing a buckskin outfit in a forest during hunting season? Any one of those men might turn and shoot another, brotherhood or not; it’s happened before. Some people are disturbed, and they should not handle a weapon. Maybe he witnessed one such event.
Consider your backstory, and consider your plot. Your character’s range of experience lies somewhere in-between, and that is what he or she will draw from. Their mind will race just like anybody else’s would, but not every mind connects the dots between guns, deer, and the feeling of having a target on your back. Some people (maybe even this hero, before heading off to war,) are very comfortable around guns. Maybe before he had witnessed horrible acts from the enemy and his own brothers, he was a cocky kid and excellent marksman who loved the taste of adrenaline in his veins, his weapon in his hands. He got a thrill from it, but now it gives him the feeling of a pitted stomach and chills.
Guns don’t automatically equal “scary” to all people. Nor do golden retrievers automatically equal “kind and lovable” to all people. Guns can be associated with fond memories. Dogs can bite.
Need another (simple) example of how character and imagery are intrinsic? At the beginning of this post, my brain went to sunlight on water (I’m a fisherman, I spend a lot of my time near water,) and sprinkles in cake batter (sprinkles might be corny to a pâtissier, but I’m a simple overgrown kid and I love them.)
Just as you wouldn’t want your ex-soldier to compare army training exercises to ballet without good reason, you want to be cautious not to become too poetic when thinking up and phrasing your imagery. This guy’s brain, unless he’s an inward-reflecting poet himself, will likely use short and sweet and simple images. They’ll be rapid, sometimes startling, and concise.
Now if we’re talking about a painter, male or female, who has a sweetly nostalgic feeling that suddenly washes over them as they look at a pretty sunset, they might relate it to the blurred smudging of a child’s drawing in sidewalk chalk. Possibly their own drawing, and this might give them time to reflect, briefly or waxing poetic, on how far they have come as an artist and what the journey has meant for them.
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Hey #writers! I’m looking for 2 #shortstories to feature on https://t.co/POVKYUR64b June 4&7. Both winners will get a $5 Starbucks gift card – have a coffee on me! Send a PDF, Word, or Google Docs of 1 story under 7.5k to firstname.lastname@example.org before May 31. Please post Qs here
— RJ Rasmus (@writingrasmus) May 6, 2018