Tuesday, September 15, 2015

6 Tricks to Mastering the Art of Imagery

Barbara Hartzler is debut author writing about angels, dystopian futures, and the occasional devotional. Her YA novel, The Nexis Secret, is inspired by her college experiences and peppered with anecdotes from her teen trip to New York City. As a former barista and graphic designer, she loves all things sparkly and purple and is always jonesing for a good cup of joe. This born-and-raised Missouri native lives in Kansas City with her husband and zany dog, Herbie. She's also a die-hard Gilmore Girls fan, and loves to share her thoughts on books, movies, music, and TV. So grab a cup of coffee and peruse her blog atwww.barbarahartzler.com or look for Barbara on the finest social media sites: TwitterFacebook,PinterestGoodreadsGoogle+, and YouTube.

What’s the writer’s tool that elevates a work from story to art form? Imagery, of course. It’s about so much more than mere devices. Imagery is the effortless nuance woven into a story, though it takes time to hand-craft into seamless perfection. 


Here are my 6 Tricks to Mastering the Art of Imagery:

1. Paint the Scene Like a Movie

A writer is an artist with words. Our job is to make the canvas come to life. I call it painting the scene. You decide what details to highlight and what to gloss over to achieve the effect you want. Only you can set the tone, mood, and pace of your scenes. But how?
The best advice I’ve received is this: pretend like you’re the director of a movie. Your story is that movie. Where does the scene open? What camera angles will you use? How would you dress the set, direct the actors? Imagine the scene you’re writing as if it’s being filmed. Visualize what you want to happen—then write only those details.


2. Use Devices

To make the details you’ve chosen poetic, it’s time to break out those devices you learned about in English class. Similies, metaphors, and symbols are great tools in your arsenal. Specific devices are even better. When you tailor your similes and metaphors to the overall theme of your scene, the results will shimmer.

For example, if you’re opening with a winter scene the best similes to use are ones about snow, ice, etc. Here’s two examples from my WIP Crossing Nexis, the sequel to my debut YA novel:

“Snowflakes splatted on the windshield as Old Faithful charged up the slushy hill like the little engine that could.”

“…we coasted into his little town, snow-encrusted like a Thomas Kinkade painting.”


3. Choose Your Words Wisely

Words are the scalpel, the finer instruments need to hone in on the message. Consider these 3 concepts when choosing your words for a scene:

1. Active verbs
2. Characterization
3. Scene goals

These concepts work in tandem throughout a scene.

In the example above from my WIP, I chose splatted and coasted for my verbs. I could’ve used landed and drove instead, but those verbs are too passive. Verbs need to do double duty in a scene.

Splatted is descriptive, you picture the fat snowflakes on the windshield which enhances the wintry theme. Coasted seems harmless enough, but after the preceding sentence it shows the car going downhill, moving the scene’s pace forward with just one word. It also has a sense of freedom and lightness reinforced by the Thomas Kinkade reference.

The example sentences also fit into what I think the character would say, leading us to the next trick.


4. Be True to Your Character’s Voice

Characterization and voice are key components in choosing what imagery tricks to use, and where to use them. Similes need to evolve from the character’s background. Word choices should stem from the character’s vocabulary. 

Quick Trick: Choose some go-to words and phrases for each of your main characters. What slang does the hero use? Is the best friend usually snarky? Having an idea of your characters’ vocabulary can help you develop their attitudes, and keep your characters distinct, but consistent.


5. Sprinkle Your Effects Throughout the Scene

Layering the effects you choose is important for scene building, but use them sparingly. Heavy-handed imagery is the fastest way to muddy a scene. Imagine it as your mission to be invisible. You want your imagery to frost the scene, not send the reader into sugar-overload.

Open with a glimpse of the scene. Reinforce it with active verbs and characterization. Spotlight turning points or pace changes with key words and phrases. Deepen characterization with specific devices hand-picked from your character’s background.

When you use the layering effect to sprinkle your scenes with multiple types of imagery, you’ll achieve the effortless wonder that makes a good story great.


6. My 5-Minute Brainstorming Trick

When I worked full time I utilized my hour-long lunch break to jumpstart my writing. I’d found a 10 minute brainstorming trick in Novel Shortcuts, but I didn’t have that much time. So, I adapted the method to 5 minutes. Try it and see if it works for you.

  • Before you start writing, open a separate page. (I have a whole brainstorming document!) 
  • Stare at the blank space you’re about to fill and set a timer for 5 minutes.
  • Start that clock and force yourself to imagine the scene like you’ve been plunked in the middle of a movie set. The director just yelled, “Action!” Where do you, as your character, go from there?
  • Choose a starting point. You can start with dialog from the character driving the action. Or try description, dressing the scene as a set decorator. Ground yourself in the moment you choose.
  • Then just write. 

When the 5 minute timer goes off, I hope you find you’ve written something surprising. 
I use this trick for first and second drafts. For second drafts I focus on the imagery I need to portray, which is usually overlooked in first drafts as I hash out the story. This little trick helps me get really focused, really fast. 


What are your favorite ways to add imagery into your story?


Stephanie here! Barbara is generously offering an ebook of her debut novel, The Nexis Secret, to one lucky reader! The Nexis Secret is also on sale until the 18th if you're feeling a bit impatient.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


36 comments:

  1. Thanks for the advice!
    Imagery is something I generally struggle with . . . there are exceptions, but mostly I just forget about it. I know where the characters are, and I forget my readers won't, and also I'm not always sure how to gracefully incorporate this stuff. >.<

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    1. It's definitely a process to add the imagery in. Usually I don't incorporate imagery until draft 2, and then I hone it in draft 3. Try narrowing the down the emotion, or mood in a scene. Once you know what emotion you want to evoke, it'll be much easier to figure out where to sprinkle it in. Hope that helps!

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  2. Brilliant advice! I have a lot of trouble with imagery, but I can't wait to try out these techniques in my own WIP. :D

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    1. Once you give 'em a test run, you'll be hooked! :)

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  3. I've been trying out the one about painting the scene like a movie and it works pretty well. It not only helps with description, but it helps with awkward dialogue that doesn't sound right when it's a movie.

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    1. Good point Hannah! Honing in on the emotion behind your imagery also effects other areas, including characterization and dialogue. I wanted to touch on that more, but didn't have time in this post. Thanks for bringing that up. It's all interrelated. :)

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  4. I love this advice! I used to do something like the 5-minute brainstorming trick (only I was free-writing, not applying it to my actual manuscript), and it's definitely a great tool. Kind of like a warmup before you start the exercise of writing. :)

    I especially like the idea of painting the scene like it's a movie. *takes mental notes* Definitely something I'm going to try to use. :D

    Thanks for the awesome post! :D


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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    1. So glad you liked it, Alexa! It's important to adapt other people's methods to fit your own writing style. So if your old brainstorming trick works for you, don't be afraid to use it. I'm such a visual person that combining the movie trick with the brainstorming trick really works for me. In fact, if someone filmed my brainstorming time, you'd probably see lots of gestures and flailing about as I try to put myself in a scene. Crazy writers, huh? :)

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  5. Your book sounds really interesting, Barbara! What gave you the inspiration to write it? ~Savannah P.

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    1. Good question, Savannah! It started out as purely chick lit when an agent I talked to wondered what would happen if I added angels into the mix. I was totally against the idea--angels were so badly done at the time. Then I played the what if game. What if I incorporated angels, how would I make it unique? I thought about 1 girl who could see angels, but then I had to think about the bad guys. What would they want from her? Scared myself in the process, but the book is WAY better than it would've been without the what if game. :)

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  6. I love your 5 minute brainstorming idea! I'll have to give it a try when I sit down to write. Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. It's SO helpful! Hope it works for you. :)

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  8. I have such a hard time with imagery, and these tips are so helpful!! Number 4, especially, I'm looking forward to trying. :) Thanks for the amazing post!

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    1. It's so hard to get what you want on the page when you try to isolate fiction writing techniques. But when you think about imagery in terms of character, plot, dialog, etc. it's easier to see it take shape. Not to mention find ways to layer it in there. I don't know about you, but I LOVE variety! :)

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  9. Great post! I love adding imagery, but sometimes I do too much, and have to narrow it down. I really like the movie idea--I use something like that when I'm having a lot of trouble deciding what the characters are doing. Imagining it like a movie means they have to keep moving, talking, doing stuff. Then I just write it! :) Thanks again!

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    1. You're right, it absolutely effects pacing, Lily! I have the all-or-nothing syndrome sometimes, either too little or too much imagery. Sometimes when I start trying to find so many new ways to add imagery, it gets to be too much. That's why I love the movie-scene concept. It's all about focus, and what that scene needs at that time.

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  10. Oh my gosh I loved the technique on imagining yourself as a director! I'm definitely trying that out :)

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    1. I like thinking of my story as a movie. Makes it seem so much more real!

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  11. great post! i usually struggle with imagery the first draft, mainly because i always try to rush to the action. i like all these ideas and will totally have to try them out when revising.

    ~K.A.C.

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    1. Me too! My 1st drafts are mostly blocking a dialogue, kinda like a screenplay only better, (I hope). It's like it takes a separate part of my brain to write action, then fill in the pretty stuff. :)

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  12. Awesome post! Even from the little glimpses I got at your writing, I can tell that you have a great voice! It's no surprise you got published! I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of The Nexis Secret. Will you be posting again on this site? If not, do you ever post writing advice on your blog? Thanks again!

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    1. Hi Lexi, thanks for the kind words! I've actually been toying with the idea of having a once a month post on Author Perspectives where I give my tips on writing and publishing. Sounds like I need to put some serious thought into it, huh? Think I just might have to now. :)

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  13. Thank you so much for the advice! This was really helpful to me - imagery is something I struggle with quite a bit. I gotta make sure and remember everything...thanks again!

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    1. It's so much easier to study imagery than to write it, right? (no pun intended) I'm hoping some of the tips work for you, but if you have any questions just leave a comment on my blog. (I made a linking post here: http://www.barbarahartzler.com/6-tricks-to-mastering-the-art-of-imagery/) Good luck to you!!

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  14. I've been struggling with imagery, and this would definitely help during rewrites. I especially like the five-minute one. Thanks!

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    1. You're right about the rewrites Jonathan! So much easier to tackle imagery then. Though, every now and then a beautiful scene with amazing imagery sneaks into my 1st draft. Then I just try and raise the bar so the rest of the novel reaches that level. GL!

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  15. Thanks for the post! I will really have to use these suggestions to help me dive in to the characters' world! I sometimes have trouble describing scenes that aren't so spectacular. . .or so they seem! It's a cool idea to imagine it as a movie. Thanks again!

    ~Zoe :)

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    1. Good point Zoeba, it's tougher to add imagery to a less exciting scene. But imagery doesn't always have to be beautiful. It can be messy or seemingly ordinary, whatever the scene requires. As long as the scene has a purpose for being in your story, you can always add imagery to reinforce that purpose! :)

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  16. I don't use a lot of metaphors or similes in my writing, since I have more of a modern action-type style, but I do occasionally. Maybe I could start using them a bit more often.

    The Nexis Secret sounds interesting. I'm not sure I've ever read a book like it before, guessing from the back cover text, anyway.

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    1. It can be tricky to sneak imagery into action novels. You can always add similes into dialog since a lot of people use them. If you base them on your character, like phrase a detective might use, then you're also adding to characterization. Which you can then extend to internal monologue. Oh the possibilities! :)

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  17. Thanks for all the great comments! I loved hanging out on Go Teen Writers. You guys have even inspired me to recommit to my own blog. Keep writing your fabulous stories and have some extra fun with imagery. :)

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  18. One of my favorite ways to come up with good stuff, is put on my ear phones, clean house and think about my characters. With the music and personalities in mind, scenes just start to unfold - Some good, most trash ;)

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    1. Great tip, Keturah! I actually have a Nexis playlist of songs I think would make it into the movie soundtrack for that same reason. Sometimes I play in the background to inspire me while I'm writing. I confess, I'm not a fan of cleaning. Your tip might help with that, too! :)

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  19. Imagery is a key element to all my books! They are like character themes. For example a fire mage has ghostly ribbons of Fire threading thru her hair when she's emotional.

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