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How to Create Vivid Imagery in Your Short Story


Imagery is language that appeals to the five senses: touch, taste, hearing, sight and smell. Successful authors weave imagery throughout their short stories with intricate detail, creating a painting out of words. An author wishing to create vivid imagery in a short story needs to remember to incorporate all five senses, show the reader what is happening instead of simply telling, avoid cliches and read often.

Show, Don't Tell

Perhaps the strongest piece of advice given to aspiring authors of fiction is to show the reader what is happening instead of merely telling them. If you are writing about a man driving to his first day at work, you can tell the reader that he is nervous. Or you can create the scene with imagery: His palms itched and a trickle of sweat dripped its way down his lower back. His stomach churned from the coffee that he drank that morning, and while he pressed the gas pedal with his right foot, his left foot tapped the floor of the car incessantly. It's easy to tell the readers how your character feels; it's harder to show them, but showing engages readers and allows them to be participants.

The Five Senses

Authors often focus on the visual, describing things in unique ways by what the eye can see. A world of smells, tastes and sounds awaits a writer who is ready to dive into descriptive writing. Consider Ray Bradbury's short story “All Summer in a Day.” In this story, it rains every day on the planet Venus, with the exception of one hour on one day every seven years. Instead of saying that the characters heard rain, Bradbury writes: “But then they always awoke to the tatting drum, the endless shaking down of clear bead necklaces upon the roof, the walk, the gardens, the forests, and their dreams were gone.” Bradbury does not omit the sense of hearing, and thus creates a more detailed world for the reader to experience.

Avoid Cliches

While writing with imagery can make a story beautiful and eloquent, it can also destroy a story if it is riddled with cliches. Authors often use similes and metaphors to create imagery. These devices are excellent ways of enhancing a story. As an author, you have to come up with an original way to describe the sparkle in a character's eyes without referring to them as swimming pools, or diamonds, sapphires or other jewels to which eyes have so frequently been compared. In her book “Imaginative Writing,” Janet Burroway writes, “A cliche metaphor fails to surprise and so fails to illuminate.” The burden is on the writer to create something new.

Read, Read, Read

While it is important to construct original similes, metaphors and other word creations, reading quality writing by others can both inspire you and show you what not to do. Once you've decided to author your own fiction, you will find yourself reading the writing of others with the eye of a critic, for better or worse. Reading descriptive writing can enhance your own.

About the Author

Based in Haw River, N.C., Sara Richmond-Walls has been writing articles since 2000. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from the University of Mary Washington and received her Middle Grades Language Arts teaching certification through the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

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