Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stephen King to the Rescue: Using Imagery to Bring a Story to Life

I just read an article that has literally changed my writing life. I was stuck on a plot problem and couldn't figure out how to resolve it. The problem? I couldn't imagine what happened. Since I like to inhabit my work, it's more accurate to say I couldn’t see what had happened. Not what should happen, but what had happened, and I couldn’t see it. Why? I hadn't taken the time to imagine it.

As providence would have it, I was in Starbucks waiting for a friend and catching up on reading when I came across an article in the August issue of The Writer. It was a magazine archive piece by Stephen King called, "Use Imagery to Bring Your Story to Life." And life is what every writer wants, and what every story and the people who populate it need.

Here are snippets from the piece and observations to accompany them:
  • "… the most important thing that film and fiction share is an interest in the image…" without image there is no story, at least none that's memorable
  • "…story springs from image: that vividness of place and time and texture…" — without imagery, there is no texture
  • The difference between ideas and images? "Ideas have no emotional temperature gradient; they are neutral."
  • "Imagery is not achieved by over-description …" In fact, less usually is more.
  • "Imagery does not occur on the writer's page; it occurs in the reader's mind."
  • "Good description produces imagery …"
  • As to the oft-asked question what to leave in? "Leave in the details that impress you the most … the details you see the most clearly; leave out everything else."
  • How does this "imagining" occur: "… we must see with a kind of third eyethe eye of the imagination and memory."
  • Why do this? "… to write is to re-experience, and as you write, that image will grow brighter and brighter, becoming something that is very nearly beautiful in its clarity."
  • Why is this crucial to good writing? "…image leads to story, and story leads to everything else."
  • It also benefits you, the writer: "… remember that a writer's greatest pleasure is in seeing, and seeing well."
To borrow another maxim, "when the eye is good the body is full of light," and so is the writing. The point is to see, and to inhabit the scene. To experience it. And experience is the best foundation for writing.

To hone this skill, slow down. And imagine. Make King's writing prompt your own:
Close your eyes and see. Imagine the scene you want to convey. Per King, "You opened your eyes too soon." Close them and try againgive yourself 30 seconds, maybe even a minute. OK. Go ahead."

I recommend The Writer magazine and the article; I certainly recommend the technique.

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