Writing Imagery

What is the difference between describing details and creating imagery? Perhaps I should ask what is the difference in describing details that are exquisite and those full of boring minutia. The concept is difficult to explain because it does depend on how much that readers desire to immerse themselves in the scene. I may want my readers to see, feel, smell, hear and even taste the locale of the story. However, a passage written for all five senses can make a person dizzy. Although a sense of equilibrium is a sensation, too, I may not want that effect.

So, I decided to research what some experts in the fields of communication had to say about imagery.

Noam Chomsky, a linguist and cognitive scientist, who is known for his political involvement has examined how the public perceives advertisements. According to Chomsky:

Everyone knows that when you look at a television ad, you do not expect to get information. You expect to see delusion and imagery.

Noam Chomsky

Marshall McLuhan, was known for his communication and media theories, and particularly the application of his theories. His most famous quote is “the medium is the message.”  He wrote extensively on how marketing and advertising appeals to people. He made the following comment on the realm of politics:

Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery. The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favor of his image, because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be.

Marshall McLuhan

There is a similar theme running through both of these quotes, the idea that imagery provides more than actually exists in the object or person being described.  The literary device of imagery can be defined as using words to create a mental picture. However, the mental picture is not simply what exists, but more than what exists. It is an amped up description that provides a greater intensity.

When imagery is used to describe a simple cookie dipped in tea it takes on a taste, texture and color that make it magically memorable. An  ordinary machine can become  a frightening monstrosity because imagery can be description on steroids.

Some of the techniques that move imagery to this level are comparisons known as similes and metaphors.  Similes typically deal with more superficial appearances.  For example, the sky  was filled with clouds, dark gray as slate. Metaphors typically deal with deeper structural similarities as in the sky is a vast, turbulent ocean of air.  This similarity can be stretched into complex extended metaphors. However in each case the writer is adding nuances to the description that are beyond simply what is observed. Imagery adds connotations which builds another level of perception and results in something being more appealing or distasteful than it actually is.

In the end what the reader desires is not simply to feel like they are present with the author but to be able to see the intangibles: the feelings, desires and very beliefs that drive the words on the written page. Remember the imagery in commercials: the man standing stalwart in front of the flapping flag sells stability not the candidate, and the car rushing down the open road sells freedom, rather than a brand of automobile. People do  not want to read books to show them reality, but something beyond it.

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