They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what about the images conjured by prose? The best parts of books always summon very clear images. Those scenes linger like photos in the back of readers’ minds long after they close the book. Images make your story real.
Think of Pictures, Not Language
To add beautiful images to your writing, try starting with pictures rather than vocabulary. There’s a reason why so many authors use Pinterest as both inspiration and advertising. It’s a visual form of social media. There will always be room for snarky Tweets and clever hashtags, but savvy readers and writers alike know the right image can transform a good story into a lasting experience.
Begin by digging through your own life. Just look around the room. How would you describe your space to create a memorable impression? Can you set your story’s tone just by painting an image of your home with words? Other experiences, like natural wonders and soaring cities you see during vacations, are important, too. Think of your favorite place, or your favorite event, and see if you can leave readers longing to visit it.
Engage the Senses
Take some time to practice. Experiment with intensely visual descriptions. Don’t just explain what physical objects look like. Place the reader in the scene. Use similes and metaphors to add psychological depth to important imagery. Pay attention to things like color and definition. Are your readers wandering with the character through a grey desert dulled by sand and ash? Is the wind pulling at them, or is the world dead quiet?
Sounds, smells, and other sensations enhance your image. That’s the advantage of planting a scene directly into your reader’s mind. Take advantage of that to fully immerse them in the picture. Remember that dessert? Put some literal grit between your character’s teeth and express the muted discomfort of goggles pressing into their sinuses. If you want a particularly fun exercise, try recreating the experience of eating your favorite meal.
Enjoy the Benefits
Imagery matters to the actual craft of your story. It isn’t just a cheap cop-out to brand your story in readers’ imaginations. Think of how memorable the most important scenes are in your favorite books. Everything from the dinosaurs appearing over the trees in Jurassic Park to Jane Eyre’s views of Mr. Rochester’s ghostly abode served critical plot purposes while simultaneously creating a particular mood. Neil Gaiman is a master of intensely visual storytelling. The carousel in American Gods springs to mind. These scenes reveal things about characters, locations, and evolving conflicts neither the characters nor your audience may be aware of. The process of creating such engaging, striking visuals pulls you deeper into your work as a writer, which means you’ll understand your characters and their motivations on a whole new level.
Just because writers put words on a page doesn’t mean they aren’t painting the very best kinds of pictures. Dig deep, look longer, and work on expressing the world around you in a whole new way. No one sees the same scene through the same eyes, so even if you describe a place described in dozens of books, your image will always be the first of its kind.