LESSON Effectively Using Descriptive Imagery

Discussion in 'REFINING WRITING' started by fatalrendezvous, Jul 14, 2013.

  1. What is descriptive imagery?

    I believe it was Robert Louis Stevenson who once said: “The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish.”

    Have you ever read a scene in a book that was so vivid, so clearly detailed and precisely described, that you felt like you were there? Like you could close your eyes and be transported into this moment of the story, see what the characters or the narrator is seeing, hear the sounds, feel the sensations, maybe even smell the aromas?

    If so, then that writer was using effective descriptive imagery. There are numerous ways to achieve this effect, but the most basic way is to use sensory descriptions. That is, relate elements of the scene back to our five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound. Many of the things you will describe this way are easy to relate to because, as people, we have all experienced a lot of similar sensations. The caress of a warm summer night's breeze, for example, or the gentle drumming of drops of rain beginning to fall against the window.

    Why is descriptive imagery important?

    Re-read the examples I posed earlier: The caress of a warm summer night's breeze, for example, or the gentle drumming of drops of rain beginning to fall against the window. Did you feel like either of those examples invoked an image, or that you knew precisely what that felt or sounded like, or if you didn't know, you could imagine it? If so, then that means it was an effective use of imagery. If you say you didn't experience those things, then you're lying I need to come up with better examples. Everyone always has room to improve!

    But contrast how drastically the feel of the sentences change if you remove the imagery:

    - There was some wind.
    - It started to rain.

    Those may seem like oversimplifications, but I kid you not I have seen people roleplay and write like that. How strong was the wind? What did it feel like? Or for the rain example, how hard was it raining? Where is the narrator or the character while it's raining? These details are left out, and so the reader is forced to guess the specifics, or worse, to make up his/her own. If your reader has to fill in the gaps on what a scene looks or feels or sounds like, two things happen:

    - First, the message is lost; often the exact emotion of a scene isn't conveyed to the reader if those subtle cues aren't there.

    - Second, you risk losing your reader's attention or interest when they realize that the scene they've created in their mind isn't quite like the scene you're describing. Sometimes we don't even consciously realize this is happening, but when we register that we aren't seeing the story the same way the writer wants us to, we begin to feel disconnected.

    We don't want these things to happen. We want our readers (in our particular case, our RP partners) to feel engaged and immersed in the story. We want them to feel invested in it. This is especially important as roleplayers, because our reader's interest level directly affects us. If our partners are interested, they are more likely to continue to RP with us! We accomplish this in a variety of different ways, but one of them is with great imagery.

    So how do I use descriptive imagery?

    We start with sensory descriptions. When describing a scene, consider what a person in that scene would be able to hear, smell, feel, see, and even taste. Add those details in your descriptions and watch as the scene you've just written about begins to actually unfold and materialize in your reader's imagination! Well, not literally watch, anyway. You can't see that happening.

    Additionally, imagery does not always have to be about describing an environment. While it is most commonly used for that purpose, imagery can also be used to convey body language that suggests what the character is feeling, thinking or doing at that moment. Diana held an excellent exercise on body language that you can use as a reference.

    For more in-depth reading, much good imagery also utilizes literary techniques to help us understand a description better. Some of the most common techniques used in imagery are metaphor, simile, and personification (and sometimes allusion). I won't go into those techniques in depth, but some very good explanations of them can be found here:

    - Metaphor
    - Simile
    - Personification
    - Allusion

    Understanding and utilizing these techniques will not only improve your roleplay, but it will also carry over into your normal writing, and may even affect your speaking and conversational ability because you'll realize that you communicate better! And in this world, communication is everything.


    This is a totally optional exercise. I don't want to take up more of your time (if you've gotten this far, thank you for reading! I really do appreciate you taking the time). But if you would like to give it a go, I will provide you with a very, VERY basic skeleton of a scene. Come up with the details, and describe them in detail! If you can, even convey or foreshadow the emotion of the scene using as much description as possible. I want you to OVER-describe, because only by going too far can you really know where the "just right" line is.

    Here is your scene:

    Here is your task! (open)
    One or two characters (you decide how many) stand atop a cliff.

    That's it. You fill in the details! In one or two paragraphs (or more if you feel inspired), describe the scene in detail. Where are they? Where is this cliff? What is around it? What do the characters see? What do they smell? Hear, feel, taste? What is the emotion of the scene and how can the imagery of the scene reflect or complement that emotion? Again I want you to OVER DESCRIBE!

    Try to use as little dialogue as possible (though of course some dialogue is acceptable), and try not to cheat by looking at other people's responses!

    #1 fatalrendezvous, Jul 14, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2013
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  2. I got bored at work and decided to give my own exercise a try.

    Lovers' Point (open)
    The thudding of footsteps through the brush and branches sweeped through the forest as James and Marie dashed toward the edge of the woods. The rays of sunlight peering at them through the trees enticed them, beckoning them to their destination. They made no attempt to be covert; small forest animals skittered out of their path and birds flittered off nearby branches at the first sign of their approach.

    They ran, and suddenly the wall of trees abruptly ended and they had burst out of the woods onto a sprawling cliffside overlooking the ocean. Their two pairs of feet kicked up clouds of dust as they skidded to a an awestruck stop. Before them was Lovers' Point, an often-rumored, but rarely-seen location. The late afternoon sun, watching them from just above the ocean horizon, had already begun to paint the sky in vibrant shades of orange, red, and purple. The embrace of the sun's warmth still provided just enough heat to offset the cool mist of the ocean breeze. The waters at the base of the cliff danced on and off the rocks below, sloshing back and forth in a gentle rhythm.

    Marie's feet hesitantly scuffed foward, her deep blue eyes wide in amazement. She moved slowly, as if afraid to disturb the serenity of Lovers' Point - a stark contrast to their excited sprinting to get there. Still breathing heavily from their run, she came to a standstill just a few paces away from where the cliff dropped off for what seemed like an eternity to the waters below.

    She could hear James' footsteps behind her, the soles of his sandals crunching lightly against the sand and the pebbles as he walked with a similar sense of awe. Marie felt a hand gingerly at her side, then both sides, as James slid behind her and embraced her with his arms around her waist. Marie's eyelids gently closed as she placed her hands over his and laced her fingers between his, allowing herself to enjoy the warmth from his body and the closeness of their hands. Then, much to Marie's surprise, James gently pulled away. She could again hear him shuffling around, fumbling with the fabric of his clothes. Then suddenly, the sounds were replaced with an anxious silence. Just the whisper of the wind and the splash of the waves remained. Curious, she turned around to face him.

    And there he was, on bended knee. In his outstretched hands was an open, velvet-lined box adorning a white gold ring, with ornate detailing that embellished a sparkling diamond.

    Marie's hands instinctively flew to her face to cover her mouth as she stifled a gasp. Her eyes darted back and forth from James' eyes to the ring, and soon the tears had welled in her eyes so much that she could barely see either of those things. No words needed to be exchanged; James' anxious, but hopeful eyes asked the question for him. As the first tear escaped Marie's eyes, the flood gates were opened and the rest quickly followed, rolling down her cheeks, sliding down her jawline before eventually dripping off her chin. She tried to speak, but no words came. Clutching her hands at her chest as if to calm her now racing heart, she seemed to laugh, cry, and sniffle all at the same time. Her eyes finally locked with his, and she barely managed to nod her head a few times before rushing towards him and falling into his arms.

    James, eyes glistening as well, quickly stood to catch her as he wrapped his arms around her, squeezing her body close to his. In that moment, the chirping of the birds seemed to fade, the winds stood still, and the ocean fell silent. All he could hear - all he cared to hear - was her laughter. And together they shared that laughter, shared the joyful tears, as they would for years to come.

    Okay, so I got a little carried away. ^^; Can you blame me?
    #2 fatalrendezvous, Jul 18, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2013
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  3. Cliff's Edge (open)
    Lush green foliage scale up the wall of jagged stone giving away to a sharp drop off where thriving forests and endless rivers of the purest blue await at the bottom. Rocks refusing gravity's embrace float lazily through the air sporting nests and crisp winds lash out violently at all who oppose it. Large birds of prey ride the thermal winds gracefully while mist from the waterfalls caress reflective surfaces. Raina stands as a silent spectator on the edge of the cliff, her build lean but strong and raven black hair - stolen away by the wind - catches the light of the merciless sun, shimmering blues and purples. Nothing was out of the place, not even the human girl sounded by the hostile environment veiled by the beauties of the eye, and only those who could survive it at its worst could sit back and really admire the beauty it truly holds not with in the thick forest and clears waters, but with in the spirits of the animals and the sheer will of the living to survive the terrors.
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  4. I hope I got this right. Thanks for the lesson.

    A Grimm post (open)
    Grimmerly Grimm shivered slightly at weight of the wind blasting against her small figure. The sunset lit up the strands of her auburn hair which whipped back and forth all over her face but did little to avert her gaze from the tuxed man standing some feet away. He eyed her just as intensely. Unlike Grimmerly, however, the fierce wind did not affect his composure...and unlike Grimmerly, his eyes did not fill with tears. Rather, it was filled with regret and painful resignation of what is to come.

    A flock of crows darted from somewhere in the forest nearby. Their croaks and flapping wings broke the silence between them which had seemed to last forever. Grimmerly took this as her cue. She felt all the good in her drain from her body, along with the color of her skin, and was replaced by pale emptiness. Anger, passion and bitterness. She mentally called these emotions out from the darkest pits of her soul and settled in both her hands, stretching her gentle little fingers into hideous, gleaming claws. Her hatred now fueled the blue fire which had once been her hair. The energy she released blew some dirt away into the ten-storey drop just inches behind her.

    To a stranger, she became a monster; a banshee. Her form was a ghastly contrast to the calm setting sun. But to the tuxed man, she was as beautiful as she was eerie and he longed to touch the ghost who will never be his.

    Decidedly, he drew the knife underneath his blazer. Glimmer trembled at the sight of it but it was too late to run now. Both of them were prepared to kill or be killed, and she was determined not to meet Hades tonight.
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  5. The spray of the ocean reached up and flung itself at his face. He could almost feel her ghost beside him, watching the sun set with him. The red rays stretched forth, mocking him with the color of blood and vibrancy of life. Jason watched, trying to keep his emotions in check. "Remember when we used to come out cliff diving?" He asked the air, knowing he would never again receive a response in her sweet, alluring voice. He laughed sadly, shaking his head. The edge of the cliff was tantalizing, calling him as the wind whistled over the edge. He could almost taste the salt-water as if came up to mockingly splash him. Jason peered over the edge, the low-tide revealing the sharp rocks below. For a moment, he contemplated falling over the edge and allowing the sea to claim him as its own.

    Jason sighed, knowing that she would never want that for him. He closed his eyes, focusing on the wind as it flowed around him, caressing and whispering the thoughts that were haunting him. He watched as the bright rays of the sun dimmed down and darkness approached. It felt just like a reflection of his soul. She was gone, and so was the light from his life.
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