This week: ImageryEdited by: Robert Waltz
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“The autumn twilight turned into deep and early night as they walked. Tristran could smell the distant winter on the air--a mixture of night-mist and crisp darkness and the tang of fallen leaves.”
― Neil Gaiman, Stardust
“A wine shop was open and I went in for some coffee. It smelled of early morning, of swept dust, spoons in coffee-glasses and the wet circles left by wine glasses.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
“The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.”
― Scott Westerfeld, Uglies
Imagery - which I think of as emotional language that describes sights or other sensations in writing - is a big part of many kinds of writing.
But with Fantasy and related genres, there's a twist. Perhaps you're writing about another world or plane of existence, something that exists only in your imagination, and you need to convey that to the reader.
I'm not going to tell you how to do that, here; I'm hardly an expert on conveying imagery. The quotes in the "About" section above are a few examples of the kind of thing I'm talking about, and you can find more if you look for them. What I do want to do here is suggest some things to think about when using imagery in a Fantasy setting.
First, don't limit the descriptions to sight and sound. We have three other classical senses, and at least a half dozen more (such as temperature sensitivity), and in Fantasy, there might even be other senses involved, such as telepathy or the sensing of electromagnetic fields. I've covered this sort of thing before in an editorial, but it's been a while; perhaps I'll do another soon on just that.
Second, there are at least three points of view to consider when conveying descriptions in a work of fiction. As sight is the easiest for us to understand, I'll discuss this in terms of visual input, but these are considerations with any sensory information. 1) What does it actually look like? Technically, I mean. 2) What does the character perceive it as? If you have a character that is not from 21st century Earth, they will have different reference points; she might not say, for instance, "the chasm reminded me of the Grand Canyon" if the character hasn't seen the Grand Canyon. But... 3) How will the reader perceive it? Chances are, your readers have at least seen pictures and video of the Grand Canyon, so that comparison might work for them. It becomes a balancing act, I think, between character knowledge and reader knowledge.
Third, and finally, keep in mind that this sort of thing can stray into poetry territory. If the rest of the story is in plain language with very little metaphor, suddenly waxing rhapsodic about some sight or sound might seem jarring to the reader. There may be good reason to do that, but be aware of changes in tone.
As with anything else, you can get better at imagery over time. The usual advice applies: keep writing!
Some fantasy for your entertainment:
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Last time, in "Point of View" , I discussed different ways to handle point of view.
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Until next time,
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