Both fiction writers and poets must to be able to write good descriptions. It is important for us to show our readers what our characters look like or how beautiful a walk in the woods can be. And the only tools we have to do this are 26 little letters and a handful of punctuation marks. And, like all good sorcerers, we need to learn the magic spells that will change all those squiggly lines and dots into real people and real places.
We need to learn the art of imagery. If I ask you what imagery means, some of you will immediately answer, “a picture.” In some senses this is true. After all, we call photographs, paintings and movies “images,” don’t we? And in writing, we often try to create imaginary pictures with our words. We write in ways for our readers to see things in their mind.
However, when writers talk about imagery we mean something a bit more than a simple picture. We not only want our readers to see pictures, we also want them to feel emotions. We don’t just want them to have an imaginary picture of the evil vampire about to bite the beautiful princess. We want them to be scared to death, sitting on the edge of a chair, and eager to turn the next page to find out if the princess will be okay.
So how do we help our readers to feel as well as see what we’re writing about? We’ve talked before about one way to do that: by using specific details. I could say “There is an apple on the table” and you might imagine a picture of that apple and that table. But since we don’t have any details about this apple or the table, that red apple you see sitting on the kitchen table, might not be the same yellow apple on the coffee table that I’m writing about.
Detailed descriptions always create stronger images than general or vague ones.
Another way to help our readers feel and experience the things we write about, is to use all five senses when we describe things. We not only see the world around us, we smell it, hear it, touch it, and taste it, too. This is called sensory observation. Suppose we said: “I reach for the yellow apple on the coffee table, bringing the smooth edges of its skin to my mouth. The apple snaps in two as it meets my teeth, the slightly sour taste sending goose bumps up my neck. I shiver, then wipe the sticky juice from my chin.”
What has happened here? Suddenly that very general apple has become very real. We can hear it snap apart, smell and taste its sour sweetness, and even feel its stickiness. By using specific details and sensory observations, we have magically (Abra-Ka-Dabra ) used our words to change a squiggle into a picture, and that picture into an experience.
Exercise: Write a story or a poem about one of the topics below, using both specific details and sensory observation: A visit to an amusement park; a raccoon tipping over your garbage can; walking down a city street after a rainstorm; visiting a farm with chickens, pigs, and horses; or vacationing at the beach.
If you like your story or poem, send it to the Magic Dragon. As always we’d love to see your work and might even publish some of the best.