Friday: Imagery Exercise—Character, as Seen in the Face

Imagery Friday is about keeping our writing hands limber, so we leave our readers with vivid, unique, and very telling images.  For me, strong images are a beacon of great writing. We’ve all read them: a phrase, a brief passage, even a paragraph that catches our imagination and moves us there, wherever the writer’s “there” happens to be. It can be in the past; it can be present day; it can be futuristic; it can be a world of figment and fantasy.

And it doesn’t need to be a scavenger hunt through the thesaurus. Notice in the passages below how the vocabulary is very simple.

If you’ve been here before for our Imagery Friday, welcome back!  If this is your first time, you might want to read the first post of this series (this link opens in a new window or tab, so you can easily return here), to gain a perspective on imagery and detail.

Let me share a few favorite passages with you, before we work on today’s exercise. (I’ll be asking you soon for your favorite passages.)

“But the trouble was there already in the room. It settled over me in a formless way, like fog; no colour, neither dark nor light, no smell, no sound; just a clenching tension of pain and the fear of death…the sheet scraped under my nails.” Mary Stewart, Touch Not the Cat.

“…furred and shifting shadows…” Mary Stewart, Touch Not the Cat

“…when it moved, it cut the air with a brittle sound. It reminded me of the quiet that settles on the coldest days in winter when it hurts to breathe and everything is still.” Patrick Rothfuss, Name of the Wind.

“His voice was old and tired around the edges, but at its center it was patient.” Patrick Rothfuss, Name of the Wind.

and one more:

“…the question that is at the back of your throat, choking the blood to your brain, ringing in your ears over and over as you put it to yourself…”  The voice of Death, in Meet Joe Black.

Obviously, great passages are not limited to books.  I shall never forget the final lines of An Unfinished Life, where Morgan Freeman’s character says:

“I got so high, Einar, I could see where the blue turns to black. From up there, you could see all there is. And it looked like there was a reason for everything.”

Beautiful lines, yes? I’ve always wanted to write a short story with the title, “Where The Blue Turns to Black.” One of these days, maybe…

Today’s exercise centers on the face of an old person. I’ve chosen two photos—one man, one woman—and you may choose your image to describe.

When describing faces, the trick isn’t to show the lines, but what the lines MEAN.

Sit with your choice of photo for a while, and let the feeling of it settle into your heart. It’s not just about what you SEE, but how does it make you feel? What memories, pleasant or otherwise, does it bring to your mind that you feel are important to share with your readers?




And the second face:


Note: Click on the face you wish to view, and the full-sized image will appear in a new tab or window.

Copy your description to the comments section of this post. Be sure that it’s obvious that you’re describing the man or the woman! I’m looking forward to seeing what you have done with these very different faces!

(To get a list of all the imagery exercises, click HERE.)

Write in JOY!




  • Gary

    One night in the Zoo Bar, downtown Lincoln, when the vengeful god of blues consumed you for his sacrifice. The smoke too thick, the roof too near, too many trolls and punks were pressed together. Relentless, you recall, the howling of the amplifiers squatting on your chest that left you deaf for days.

    An old guitar – a plank of wood – stained and pockmarked, used for driving nails? That’s what the old man’s face recalled. You trip and stumble, trying to regain your sense of here and now. You’ll walk the morning down these empty docks before the feeling leaves you.

    • Now THAT is a fabulous confabulation of emotion! You don’t just tell of a life, but using the second person, you place the reader in the old man’s skin (until the “trip and stumble” phrase). I get the feeling — without your directly saying so! — of a life lived to its fullest with JOY and sorrow as the leavening. A man who worked hard with his hands, but lived joyously full for its (supposed) pleasure. And I say “supposed,” because it’s obvious the man went to concerts again and again — so why go, unless he wanted to — but using the “trolls and punks” and “too thick…too near,” you create a sense of his wishing he hadn’t gone. And yet he goes back.

      BEAUTIFUL work, Gary! You use allusion very, very well!

      Notice how you create the emotion without naming the emotion.

    • Ash

      I keep reading this and get a different sense each time…like oops, there is so much here, I know I missed something! Beautiful, Gary, as always. 🙂

  • Ash

    Humor still played at the edges of his mouth. He always had this impish way and though now covered over by time and struggle, the imp was still alive and vital. Too vital for his own good sometimes. How much trouble can a 90 year old man get into? A lot, I discovered.

    (I always make sure I post mine BEFORE reading Gary’s because his are so doggone good, that I feel too inferior to post! 😉

    • I love the use of “imp,” which is rarely used to describe someone in the elderly category. I fell in love with this face when I first saw it, and now I realize it was the “imp” that caught my eye. I hadn’t put the word to the emotion I was feeling.

      Love the idea that there’s more to come, i.e., “A lot, I discovered.” Can you image this face on the cover of a book, and that paragraph as your first paragraph?

      Don’t let yourself feel inferior to anyone! Your work is excellent. Gary’s view is his; your view is yours. I’ll post mine by this evening.

      LOVE the “imp.” Good!

    • Gary

      Oh for heavens sake! You rock, Ash! I read what you wrote to my wife Becca (I’m trying to coax her to come play with us) and she loved it as well.