What Is the Imagery in a Short Story?
Fundamentally, a fully formed short story must reveal a particular instance in a character's or series of characters' lives that will dramatically influence the course of their existence. Writers can use a great number of literary techniques to ensure that a short story develops to such a level. Imagery, a mental picture that literature creates for readers with certain uses of language, can help do so, and it is among the most powerful tools a writer has for imprinting a vivid picture in the reader's mind. By examining the elements of a short story where imagery often creates clarity, you can better understand why imagery is such an essential part of writing a truly great short story.
Short story writers can develop an interesting and intriguing setting in many ways, and imagery is one important technique that will breathe life into their characters' surroundings. If a writer provides intricate details of the landscape where the short story takes place, you will be able to picture the setting clearly. No two trees look the same, so details about the size and shape of the leaves or color and shade of the bark can help your understanding of the setting. If while reading a short story, you have a clear picture in your mind of a place you've never been, the writer has succeeded in creating a vivid image and has used imagery in a successful way.
Just because a short story writer gives a character a name and a setting to live in doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to form a vivid picture of the character while reading. As concrete details can enliven a setting, they can do the same for particular characters. Small details, such as the color of a character’s shirt or a description of the way a character’s hair moves in the wind, help to form an image in your mind and are a way for a writer to use imagery in a way that engages you.
What a character says and how he says it has a great deal to do with a writer's use of imagery. The speech pattern of a character, whether it reflects a foreign accent or a domestic one, can humanize him and force you to build an even clearer image of the character in your mind. Writers can also empower one of their characters to describe themselves, another character or their surroundings, which creates a clearer picture in your mind of such elements.
Sound and Smell
When you turn up the sound on the television, it often seems as though you are able to see what’s on the screen more clearly. This is true because all five senses are connected, and one builds off the other to make up a person’s holistic conscious experience. If a writer has the narrator or a character describe what sounds are surrounding them (birds chirping, cars honking or metal crunching), you will be able to imagine the short story more vividly. This applies to your sense of smell, too. If a rotten apple is a main symbolic object in a short story, you’ll be able to see it more clearly if you know it smells like a dirty foot.
Jake Shore is an award-winning Brooklyn-based playwright, published short story writer and professor at Wagner College. His short fiction has appeared in many publications including Litro Magazine, one of London's leading literary magazines. Shore earned his MFA in creative writing from Goddard College.