Imagery is an essential tool in the writer‘s toolbox. An indispensable literary device, imagery utilizes descriptive language to evoke the reader’s sensory experience and incite the imagination. Ultimately, a writer’s effectiveness is linked directly to his or her use of imagery.
There are many forms of imagery that apply directly to the senses: visual (sight), auditory (sound), kinetic (movement), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste) and tactile (touch). These forms of imagery are often showcased in similes and metaphors.
A simile employs the words “like” or “as” to compare two different ideas. Here’s a good example of a gustatory simile by writer extraordinaire, Raymond Carver: “I lit a cigarette that tasted like a plumber’s handkerchief.”
Carver’s image is clear; he uses compact language and his image is fresh. There’s no ambiguity; that cigarette is not a sweet delight. Carver writes exactly what he tastes by tying in a solid visual. This kind of writing makes for enjoyable reading because it’s specific and unique.
Additionally, a metaphor is similar to a simile, but it doesn’t use “like” or “as” to make a comparison. The fabulous poet T.S. Eliot uses metaphors brilliantly. Here‘s a visual one: “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.”
Again, the accuracy of the writing is what is effective. He chooses his imagery with precision and captures the neuroticism of his subject perfectly by choosing a loaded noun.
When working with imagery, it is helpful to first see clearly. Know the thing that you are writing, and it will be easier to describe it. Sometimes it’s helpful to get the facts of the story out first, then go back and do the fine detail work. But ultimately, practice is what will help improve your writing. Reading will too. These two acts are inextricably linked and feed off each other. So, pick up a pen, and when you’re done with that, pick up a book!
Happy writing and reading!