Monday, April 21, 2014

Writing Imagery

Now-a-days, readers want excellent writing, but it needs to be straightforward. This makes it all the more important to place your metaphors and similes in appropriate places throughout your novel. If you have one metaphor after a simile after another metaphor...then you will slow down the reader and your story will sag with the weight of a word picture frenzy in the reader's overloaded mind.

Using well-placed metaphors and similes can 1) Anchor the reader to the setting and have them  connect to your character's situation, and 2) Emphasize high emotional intensity, as implied by James Scott Bell in his book, Revision & Self Editing.

Just as a poem begs to be memorized, a metaphor or simile create a memorable experience for the reader, and etches your story into their mind. I can think back on certain books and remember their well-placed metaphors and similes out of the entire 90,000 words. These tools grip a reader's thoughts and leave a “book”print in their mind long after the book is closed and put away.

Here are some examples from books that have printed on my mind:

Anchoring to the setting:

"If Broadway was Manhattan's artery, Five Points was its abscess: swollen with people, infected with pestilence, inflamed with vice and crime. Groggeries, brothels, and dance halls put private sin on public display. Although the neighborhood seemed fairly self-contained, more fortunate New Yorkers were terrified of Five Points erupting, spreading its contagion to the rest of them.” Wedded to War, Jocelyn Green.

Jocelyn uses the metaphor of the condition of the human body to not only emphasize the point of view of her heroine, an aspiring nurse, but she also gives such a vivid understanding of the setting that a reader could hardly dismiss this and move on without allowing the imagery to paint itself in their mind.

“Through the makeshift curtain that gave her some semblance of privacy, she could make out Captain Click's sturdy shadow like a locked gate barring harm's way.” Courting Morrow Little, Laura Frantz

This book is set in a time of unease and discord between the settlers and the Native Americans. This metaphor of Captain Click being a locked gate is appropriate to the point-of-view of the heroine who is a young woman traveling into hostile territory. This anchors the reader to the setting not only through the heroine's perspective, but gives the overall emotional climate of the setting—one of possible danger at every turn.

Emotional Intensity:

“The man who stared back was not a man he knew. The careful control bred into him since birth was gone. In its place he saw a fire-breathing dragon capable of murder.” The Duchess and The Dragon, Jamie Carie

The image of a fire-breathing dragon is placed at a time when the hero's emotions are high and his actions have culminated to a dreaded circumstance. Jamie Carie imbeds this metaphor in such a way that it maintains the momentum of the story but shows intensity of the hero's emotion.

“In the domestic cloud of dust and family, I too can forget the One who sees me, but in eucharisteo, I remember, I cup hands and all the world is water.
The well, it is still there.
There is always a well—All is well.
I choke out my son's name. His skin is And he stares long, brims...quavers...falls. And I cradle him, the Boy-Man, flood over shoulders.” One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp.

Ann's moment with her son is filled with word pictures that emphasize the build to an emotional outpour. This book takes the use of metaphor to such a deep level, my heart stirs at every turn of the page.

Metaphors and similes can also unveil a writer's voice. Ann Voskamp does this amazingly well, not only in the example above, but consistently throughout the book. Depending on a writer's voice, these descriptive tools can be well-placed mirrors to the under-lying tone of the story.

Do you have examples of well-placed metaphors and similes in some of your favorite books? How about in your own? Please share!

Angie Dicken first began writing fiction as a creative outlet during the monotonous days of diapers and temper tantrums. She is passionate to impress God's love on women regardless of their background or belief. This desire serves as a catalyst for Angie's fiction, which weaves salvation and grace themes across cultures. She is an ACFW member and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency.


Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Beautiful examples, Angie! Loved "One thousand gifts" - pure poetry.

Debra E. Marvin said...

Here's a thought, and I don't want to be the devil's advocate... ever... but I know I personally love to write a beautiful line of description, or simile/metaphor that stirs me like the examples you gave.

But I also hear warnings from some (got nailed by a contest judge) not to write anything that makes the reader stop to say ' how nice' because we are pulling the reader out of the story. Like we are showing off.

Have any of your heard this argument? Words and phrases can be only so evocative before they detract from the story? Isn't it all a matter of personal preference? I love the poetry of a well-crafted description and I want to accomplish that.

Angie Dicken said...

Karen, I am reading One Thousand Gifts right now...Each page has my emotions in a whirl!

Angie Dicken said...

I have heard similar things...from industry professionals. I will say, it was disheartening at first to think that beautiful language is distracting...but then, I pick up book after book, and I find the authors who have it woven into their voice, and it works.
I think if a novel has a ton of straightforward dialogue, action, and then there's a line plopped in there that is beautifully versed, THAT could be distracting. But, I feel if I can incorporate those descriptions into my novel organically and not stray from my voice, then it works.
All the examples I gave are constant with the entire work.
Maybe you have brought up something more...Metaphors and similes must comply with your voice. Hmmm...that would be interesting to research!! Thanks so much for your question. I hope that we can continue to write poetry into our fiction!!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Those are great examples. I'm always so impressed when authors can create such vivid images and emotions with only a sentence. One thing that's definitely a challenge for me writing contemporary romance is to be unique in my descriptions, but keep them brief.

Unknown said...

Debra, I love your question, and Angie your answer, IMHO, makes a lot of sense.

I loved this post, Angie. You got me pondering my own ms and how to incorporate more imagery among the straightforward events of the story. If I have time, I'll come back and share examples.

BTW, I love, LOVE One Thousand Gifts. God has truly anointed Ann Voskamp's writing--on so many levels. :)

Angie Dicken said...

Hey Cindy! I can see how that would be more challenging for contemporary romance. I think it works when it uses imagery that pertains to the overall theme of the book, or the setting. If it's set in New Orleans, you could use imagery that would link to the New Orleans, "Her hair was dark like the brew from Cafe Du Monde" you know? Is that totally silly? Or if it's about a wedding planner, you can use imagery that has to do with wedding-related images. I know Ashley is able to weave some great imagery in her contemporary romance using her Georgia setting to ground her characters. I think a simple sentence or analogy can be just as powerful as a sentence loaded with adjectives and words. Does this make sense at all? I only feel capable of expressing my opinion because Ash is my critique partner and has opened my eyes to contemp. romance more. :)

Angie Dicken said...

Ooh, Jeanne would love to see your examples!
One Thousand Gifts is amazing. I just wish I had time to read it straight through!!

Joanne Sher said...

Was grabbed by Jocelyn's image when I read Wedded to War too - so vivid. Great post!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Angie, that makes perfect sense! I like your examples :) Simple yet poignant. I'm going to remember this when I work on my story.

Jocelyn Green said...

Loving the discussion here, even though I'm joining a little bit late. Personally, it's really easy for me to go overboard on descriptions in the first draft because it's just fun for me. Hoping other writers can relate to that. :) Then I have to go back and trim them down to an appropriate length so the book can quickly get back into the story. I have also started reading more poetry because poets usually do a great job of evoking scene and emotion in just a few words or phrases. The one right word is more powerful than ten medicore words. So being specific is a step in the right direction toward vivid but not overdone prose.
Thanks for the great post, Angie!

Ashley Clark said...

Ang, I love this, and it's funny because I was just thinking about this concept yesterday!! I think you're absolutely right-- one of the best ways to organically develop reader emotion is to develop metaphors throughout the story, that way the storytelling doesn't become heavy handed. Great post!