Using Imagery In Your Novel Writing, by Kashmira Sheth
The writing that stays with us long after we have read it usually has many layers. The story is gripping, the narrative arc is well defined, and the characters jump off the page, but often there is also something else. It might be the way the writer has used imagery that creates a cohesive effect and pulls the story from enjoyable to unforgettable.
There are many things that one can use for imagery. It can be taken from nature – plants and trees, mountains and oceans, wild animals and birds. The imagery can be taken from culture – from food and cooking, from clothes and celebration, from rituals and traditions. It can be taken from art – from posters and paintings, from music and from books.
In order to use imagery effectively, the imagery must fit the protagonist and his or her journey. If your character is passionate about growing crops and cooking, then employing imagery of farmland, terrain, produce and spices makes sense. But if your character’s idea of cooking is to make toast and slather peanut butter over it and eat it on his way to meet a friend, such imagery will not resonate with the reader.
Imagery can be used to bring to life the character’s situation, his or her moods and emotional state. One book that I admire is The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Here, author Elizabeth George Speare uses color to reflect 16-year-old Kit Tylor’s two distinct worlds. Kit has left her tropical island home and has journeyed to the Puritan New England of 1687. The brilliant colors of the flora of Barbados clash in Kit’s mind with the drab landscape of New England. The author uses the blue and jade of the warm ocean surrounding Barbados to set apart the muddy brown river in the new land. The latter reflects Kit’s mood in New England. The author also uses clothing to show the change in Kit’s surroundings. The Puritan women’s drab clothes made of homespun coarse material are in stark contrast to the colorful silks and satins of Kit’s wardrobe. And in dreary New England, she stands out like the brilliant plumage of a tropical bird. It makes the reader understand how Kit could be an easy target in this new world. These jarring contrasts are easily imagined in the reader’s mind and evoke his sympathy.
Speare uses color throughout the story in a unifying and clever manner. At different stages the colors mirror Kit’s emotions. A little into the story Kit comes upon a blooming meadow – an expanse that reminds her of the ocean. The meadow claims her and the reader feel that, along the way, this new county will claim Kit, too. In the middle of the story, when Kit feels a little settled in her new environment, the white snow covers the land and the reader feels that Kit is somewhat at peace. At the end of the story, Kit sees the tender green New England spring coming alive from the brown muddy earth, which reflects her transformation.
I believe that when appropriate imagery is woven into the narrative it can provide depth by reflecting the character’s emotional world. With this, the story becomes layered and stays with the reader long after the final words are read and the book is closed.
Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com
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