I hope you’ve been enjoying our Imagery Friday exercises. If you’re here for the first time, you might want to read the first post in this Imagery Friday series to gain a perspective on how this highly important exercise enriches our writing. (The link opens in a new tab or window, so it’s easier for you to return here when you’re done.)
So far, we’ve seen that whatever we are writing, it must bring an image to mind. An image is at the simplest level of a story. Since all writing is about imagery, great writing focuses on selection of detail. This not only brings the image into vivid focus for the reader, but also guides them into making emotional commitments to your imagery. The trick isn’t to show the image, but to guide the reader into what the image means. We’ve also looked at imagery as a function of emotion, such that familiar emotions can be evoked by unusual images.
Today’s image brought some interesting thoughts to mind. First, here’s our image for this week:
This is a York street at night during the Christmas holiday season. You’ll be describing this for your exercise today, but let’s talk about “the Christmas Factor” first.
The Christmas Factor and Imagery
There are some happenings so evocative of life (or death), that just by using a few words, you elicit the entire spectrum of emotions. If you set a story in New York City at Christmas, you have a “leg up” on the emotions of your readers—especially those who live in the city. They’ll already have strong feelings, and even if you describe only one or two things, the reader will include in their reading experience what they love about Christmas. The Christmas Factor, however, can be a dual-edged sword: while Christmas might evoke family and lights and laughter for you, there are those for whom Christmas is a negative: it’s sheer grit and depression and disappointment. All of that reader’s feelings of disappointment and anger are brought forth just by your setting.
Can you think of other Christmas Factor settings? How about Easter/Passover? a graveside funeral? a ceremony of any sort in which a person is honored for valiance, heroism, distinguished service, etc.? The Christmas Factor applies to any ceremony or occasion in which rituals and expectations are shared by a large segment of the population.
When you use a Christmas Factor in your story, focus becomes even more important. You speak of a table laden with food, the family sitting around salivating to dig in, so what do you focus on? (You can briefly mention certain elements of the scene, but we’re talking about where you FOCUS the reader.) So what do you focus the reader on? The turkey? Maybe if part of it looks gnawed on. The family? Maybe if there’s a child’s crayon drawing at an empty chair. Maybe if the toddler in a high chair is missing one shoe, which shows off the toddler’s mismatched socks? Maybe the guinea pig in its rolling ball pinned in place by Uncle Herman, whose expression was one of distaste. Set enough of the expected image—the table, the family, the music in the background, the aromas—then find the unusual, the different. Find that which means something to your story beyond the Christmas table setting.
In the photo above, I included a large size, because I want you to examine the photo for the details. In a photo like this, it’s easy to see what you expect, rather than what is truly there. Take a moment to study it, maybe even divide it visually into quarters and inspect each quarter. Then begin to build your description. Don’t be surprised if this takes you a fair amount of time. If you’re doing it right, you can’t do this one quickly.
What struck me about this photo? Hmm, is it cheating to tell you now? Nah, guess not … do you notice the many, many tiny lights along the street, but also notice that the stars in the night sky are missing? It’s as if the stars in the sky that epitomize Christmas have been drowned out by the commercial lights. No, I’m not a cynic, but that was a forcible impression for me.
How about you?
Write in JOY,