Everything is an image. If you don’t believe me, read Stephen King’s article, “Imagery and the Third Eye,” about how his writing is all about imagery—
“…it is the imagery that makes the book “stand out” somehow; to come alive; to glow with its own light.” —Stephen King
As writers, we are taught to think of stories as character, plot, dialogue, setting, etc. These are, of course, essential, but at its deepest and simplest level, a great story is nothing more than a series of images, and what is a movie but a series of images, yes? Stories with great emotional appeal happen when the writer can…
focus the reader’s attention upon a specific image or part of an image.
It’s a magic act. “Watch where I ask you to watch, so I can amaze you with my sleight-of-hand.” It is our job, as writers, to select where our reader is focused, and through creating that focus, we seize the emotions of our readers. The most unforgettable series of images for me comes from the West Wing episode, In Excelsis Deo. The images?
- A homeless Korean War vet, curled up on a park bench, dead
- A business card, left in Toby’s donated-to-Goodwill coat
- Toby, Mrs. Landingham (who had just confided that she had lost her sons in Vietnam on Christmas Eve), and the homeless vet’s also-homeless brother at the cemetery for the burial
- Their startled reaction when the first volley of the 21-gun salute was fired.
Throughout the episode, there was this image of Toby—walking energetically, alive with purpose—wearing this beautiful, tan, full-length coat. The contrast between his new coat (worn with energy and purpose) and the old coat (wrapped around a dead Korean War vet) was emotional for me. The writers of this episode, Aaron Sorkin and Rick Cleveland, were highly selective about each image in each scene, and the culmination of these images was an incredibly emotional experience for viewers.
So it’s all about imagery, but more than that: it’s about SELECTION of imagery.
Imagery is about selection!
It’s your job, as a writer, to provide selection, so the reader’s focus is always under your control. We’ve all heard the “less is more” adage when it comes to many things—cooking and writing come immediately to mind. When there is too much detail, the reader’s mind is confused: What’s important? What should I remember for the duration of this story?
In his article, Stephen King said, “To describe everything is to supply a photograph in words; to indicate the points which seem the most vivid and important to you, the writer, is to allow the reader to flesh out your sketch into a portrait.” [My emphasis]
So yes, selection, selection, selection.
Today’s exercise is about selection. The image below is a complex one, a photograph by a dear friend with a great eye for beauty in the smallest places: David Coyote. Your task is to evaluate the entire image, then decide what you wish to describe—that which feels significant to you, that one piece of the photograph you wish to convey to your reader, and allow them to imagine the rest.
Write your description and post it in the comments section.
Write your description to give an impression of the whole, but a focus on a part.
Truly lovely photograph, isn’t it? Now think of your character standing at this pond, looking down at this image. What would your character focus on?
Fun questions, aren’t they! I’m looking forward to seeing what you select and how you present the image in words!
To view all “Imagery Friday” exercises, click HERE.