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What makes a strong mental image?

last activity 7 months ago by System

Attribution notice removed by user avatar System · 2019-12-12T17:49:05Z (7 months ago)
Source: https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/48474
License name: CC BY-SA 4.0
License URL: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/
Initial revision by (deleted user) · 2019-12-08T13:06:19Z (7 months ago)
## Descriptive Words

You are looking for descriptive adjectives and adverbs. If you look at the two passages you've provided, you'll notice that the first is almost devoid of adjectives and adverbs, while the second uses description, as well as an entire adverbial phrase (I think that's what it's called - essentially everything after 'silence').

Why does this work? Without description, you are using nouns and verbs. X happened, Y failed, and Z began. With description, you give the reader an idea of _what something was like_. X happened quickly. Y failed completely. Z began with gusto. These are of course basic examples.

## Which Words?

Some words are better than others. I remember one example on this very topic I once read. It was an excerpt (I'll provide a link if I can find it), about a steamboat owner seeing his new steamboat in the dark of night for the first time. If I just stick to the nouns and verbs, you have something like this:

> He saw the boat, moored at the dock, its paint and smokestacks visible against the night.

Add in some basic adjectives and adverbs, as well as some more descriptive verbs, and things get better:

> He could just see his new steamboat, moored at the dock hidden in the rushes, its black paint and smokestakes gleaming in the starlight.

A bit better. We're starting to get a good picture. Words/phrase like 'could just see', 'gleaming', 'black paint', and 'starlight' really help. But there's one final trick. If you assume that the story you are telling is related from a PoV (which it should be), then it makes sense that the PoV's emotions will color the narrative, right? How do you show that? Pause the tale and tell the reader what the PoV character is thinking? Have another character comment on the PoV's emotional state? There's a better way: use only descriptive words which _suggest **how** _ the character feels. In the excerpt, the owner feels a great sense of pride in his new boat. Here is the actual excerpt, as best as I can recall. Pay attention to the choice of words, particularly in the last half:

> He could just make out his new steamboat, moored at the dock hidden in the rushes. Its black paint gleamed in the starlight, and its tall smokestacks reached towards the sky, threatening to pierce the deep blackness.

Words like 'gleamed', 'tall', 'threatening to pierce', and even 'reached' to some extent all suggest how the owner sees his new boat: with pride, as something powerful.

## How does this help you?

Writing this way does take some practice. I would certainly recommend you read some good classical literature. I'm talking things like Charles Dickens, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Jane Austen, and all the other greats. They use language as a tool (sometimes a bit too much - but it's a wealth of information for your question), and there's a lot you can learn from them.

When you are writing, try to determine what you are trying to _say_ about the nouns and verbs you are using. Even if you aren't trying to convey the emotions of a character, you should still want to invoke emotions in your reader. That's ultimately what draws a picture: enough description to get the reader's imagination working. Take your first passage. Someone drowns in logs. But how are we, the readers, supposed to feel? Afraid? Sad? Maybe happy for some reason? Identify that, and identify the language which will get that across. I find using a resource like thesaurus.com works great for finding words to convey what you want.

Best of luck in your writing!

Attribution notice added by user avatar System · 2019-12-08T13:06:19Z (7 months ago)
Source: https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/48474
License name: CC BY-SA 4.0
License URL: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/
Imported from external source by user avatar System · 2019-10-08T19:14:50Z (9 months ago)
Original score: 1