Don’t Write Scenes–Write Images

Don't Write Scenes--Write ImagesWhen you think about it, the transformative power of the written word is no less phenomenal than the technological miracles of computers, televisions, and smarts phones. Both are alchemy. Technology uses wires and circuits to turn code into the wonder of light and color. Writing does exactly the same thing. Little black squiggles on the page have the power to reach another human being’s mind and light it up with imagery just as vivid as anything that person might experience in the real world.

In reading, all you see are words on paper. But think about one of your favorite books. The visual memory that returns to you is not one of black words on white paper, is it? What you see are images—recalled snapshots of an experience that, in your mind’s eye, looks almost as real as memories of your actual life.

That is the marvelous power of written fiction.

As readers, we know this instinctively. But as writers, we can sometimes get so lost in the technical minutiae of the art form that we forget fiction’s visceral impact. To readers, a story is light and color, sensation and emotion. To writers, fiction is often words. Ideas. Themes. Plot. Structure. Scenes.

Although all those things are crucial to a solid story, they are ultimately just the framework for a reader’s sensory experience of your work. This is why it’s so important for writers to think visually when writing.

Creating Visual Memories of Your Stories: An Exercise

Light the dark BookIn her essay “Nobody Asked You to Write That Novel” in the anthology Light the Dark, Pulitzer-winner Jane Smiley observed:

The moments are what come to mind when I think about the books I like best—moments that stick in my mind as pictures. When you’re deep into reading a book that you’re very fond of, the images pass through your mind and leave a permanent impression. I don’t tend to remember the ideas as strongly. For me, a novel’s conceptual framework generally takes a backseat to the images that tell the story. Ultimately, these images are more important and enduring than what the writer believes.

Today, I want to challenge you to stop thinking about scenes (not permanently, of course, but just as an exercise). Instead, start thinking of your story in terms of images.

Close your eyes and let your story drift through your mind. Maybe put on a song you find especially evocative of your story. Now just watch. What do you see?

  • Maybe you immediately have a strong visual response. (Whenever I listen to Nightwish’s “Last of the Wilds,” I experience an almost overwhelming image of my heroine from Dreamlander riding a black stallion through the white snow toward a battle.)

  • Maybe what you experience is more of a jumbled mass of pictures—as if you dumped a box of Polaroids onto a table—vivid and real but without conscious order.
  • Or maybe you have to purposefully conjure specific images based on scene ideas—creating them on the spot, rather than discovering them already preformed in your own mind.

No one of these responses is right or wrong. But the stronger your visual memories of your story, the more likely you will be able to craft words that work the same alchemy for readers.

Likely, the images that come to you most naturally and vividly are representative of the most important moments in your story—whether you realize it or not. If you want to create a cohesive (and resonant!) story, you must use these visceral “story memories” to build your narrative, plot, and theme in the most organic way possible. Instead of trying to glue the story’s mechanics onto the top of these central images, you can instead mine these images for the thematic elements and ideas that make them so powerful to you. And then use that.

6 Ways to Write Powerful Imagery

Several Short Sentences About Writing Verlyn KlinkenborgIn Several Short Sentences About Writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote:

The very nature of reading encourages us to believe we’re looking through the prose to worlds on the other side of the ink.

To that end, here are six ways you can learn to pay attention to your own visual imagination, mine it for its full wealth, and then craft a story that unforgettably shares those riches with your readers.

1. Recall Your Visceral Responses From Other Books

The first step to writing strongly visual fiction is to gain a conscious understanding of this highly subconscious phenomenon. Look to yourself and your own reading experiences.

Again, think of your favorite reading experiences (not movie experiences, since they’re already explicitly visual). What do you remember? What do you see? (And definitely try to go beyond any image that might have been directly influenced by the book’s cover or other related art.)

Try to remember these “moments” in the story as specifically as possible. Mentally flesh out the visual details. Now… what do you feel? What emotions do you associate with these moments? Do you remember what was happening in the plot? In the theme? Do you have an intellectual memory or understanding of these things as well? Or is what you feel more of an idea?

Again, there are no right or wrong answers. Just analyze your experiences and your responses. Figure out what about these particular scenes is so visually arresting they’ve become imprinted in your memory.

2. Fill Your Mind With Images

You cannot draw water from an empty well. None of us are capable of coming up with something out of nothing. We all need external “objective” input from the outside world in order to, in turn, create something subjective from within our interior worlds.

Remember the Neil Gaiman quote we referenced a few weeks ago? He talked about how our early (and not-so-early) influences get tossed into the compost heap of our minds where they’re broken down into the kind of rich and fertile soil we require to grow new ideas.

This is why writers must be students of the world. Being a student begins by opening yourself to experiences and, particularly, images. Yes, read like crazy. But also look like crazy. Become an avid looker of the world. At every opportunity, fill your brain with new images.

When possible, travel. Watch movies of all types—the more varied, the better. Study paintings: if it’s of people, study every single face: look for the artist’s conscious decisions in every brushstroke. Utilize Pinterest by following a variety of boards, everything from global scenery to fantasy paintings to architecture.

Be a visual glutton. Cram your imagination full of beautiful and arresting images. You won’t even be aware of how most of these images influence your own writing, but they will.

Dreamlander K.M. WeilandRecently, I rewatched Disney’s animated Robin Hood, which was a childhood favorite. I was surprised to be able to realize how much of the film’s imagery had impacted my own writing. (The armory behind the waterfall in Dreamlander? I can now see how that was totally my imagination recycling the scene when Robin takes Marian to his hidden camp through the entrance behind the waterfall.)

3. Study Symbolism

The reason imagery is so memorable—and so powerful—is because it represents symbolism. This is true on both a universal level (e.g., we all instinctively understand the implications of light and dark), but also on a personal level. The reason certain images from certain stories remain with you so intensely is because they represent or are in themselves symbols of things that are important to you.

We might argue that art itself is essentially nothing more or less than symbolism. Especially when it requires people to interact with it emotionally (rather than on a conscious, logical level), it becomes a manifestation or metaphor of a deeper feeling, idea, or belief.

Written fiction tends to complicate this idea. Unlike a painting, which simply is what it is and offers no commentary upon itself, written fiction is almost entirely its own commentary. This is why writers instinctively understand the importance of the principle “show, don’t tell.” The more we tell—the more we commentate—the more we degrade a story’s natural symbolism.

To execute symbolism well, writers must have a conscious understanding of this powerful tool. One way to look at symbolism is as the intersection of imagery and meaning. This definition affords guidelines for study. Part of paying attention to your own visceral reactions to images (those you see in real life, film, and visual art, but also those you imagine based on the written word) is, first, asking yourself what these reactions tell you these images mean to you, and, then, what it is you think the artist intended them to mean.

4. Make Use of Weather, Lighting, and Color

Universal symbolism largely draws its metaphors from universal sources. Top among these are weather, lighting, and color. Think of these as these as the primary colors on your palette—red, blue, and yellow. They’re bold, they’re brash, they’re impossible to ignore, and they’re powerfully memorable. But they’re also just the starting place for more nuanced uses of symbolic imagery.

Think again about some of your favorite remembered scenes. I bet some of the most powerful aspects of these memories incorporates one or all of these elements.

More than once, when I’ve struggled to write a scene, it’s because the lighting is off. Sounds crazy, but sometimes you just can’t write a scene the way you want it if you have the sun shining down on your characters.

Same goes for color. Color galvanizes all my visual scenes. In all my memories, it’s the colors that pop to mind first. And when I do the mental exercise of running through one of my stories image by image, my mind’s eye is instantly awash in color.

5. Train Yourself to Think in Images

Allow me a momentary rabbit trail: It has been my observation that the reason many writers get hung up on the outlining process is because they’re too focused on the words. They’re creating a list of scenes that is nothing but words (e.g., Larry went to town; Maya broke her leg). When they stop thinking of the outline as a scene list and instead start using it as a brainstorming exercise in which they vividly envision their scenes, everything changes.

However important it may be, if scene structure is the beginning and end of how you think about scenes, you’re missing one of the most important ingredients. In planning every scene in your story, discipline yourself to take a step back from the plotting. Instead of focusing rigorously about how your character has to have a goal and that goal has to be met by conflict, give your subconscious a chance to speak up. Stop thinking about the scene and start seeing it.

A recent reviewer of my aviation-adventure novel Storming made my day by saying that “some of her stuff is outrageous, but always entertaining.” To me, this means I’m doing my job right. I’m opening up my subconscious and using its unique and vibrant images. Instead of just writing, “oh, and then they had a fight,” I’m trying to find the most interesting visual to represent this important moment in the plot.

But remember, even as you’re relying on the power of universal symbolism, you’re trying to avoid using the same old image readers have seen a million times before. You’re taking all your own visual influences, throwing them in a food processor, and seeing what new and interesting mashup emerges. Don’t settle for seeing the same old sights; seek brave new visions.

6. Polish Descriptive Skills

And now, finally, we come to the subject of execution. Writing is ever a tale of duality: subconscious and conscious. Your conscious brain can have nothing worthwhile to execute if the subconscious isn’t supplying it with rich fodder. But even the richest imaginations will fail to connect with others if the conscious execution isn’t portraying ideas as powerfully and cleanly as possible.

Really, the art of creating visual fiction is as vast as the art of narrative writing itself. Choosing the right words, balancing subtext and context, knowing when to show and when to tell, even crafting solid structures and themes—all of these are inherent to marvelously visual fiction.

Still, when most of us think of executing images on the page, we’re thinking about describing them. Description is one of the most important, straightforward, and yet difficult skills for any writer to master. In writing visual fiction, perhaps the two most important aspects of description are concreteness (avoiding abstractions or generalities) and specificity (choosing evocative and memorable descriptors).


A writer’s imagination is the ultimate fantasy land. Visit it fully every chance you get. Open the doors and let it spill into the real world. And, in return, never cease feeding those fantasies with the beauties and wonders of reality. Taking full advantage of the shared imaginative experience the written word creates between individuals is one of the most incredible opportunities and greatest privileges of being a writer.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What is an image you recall vividly from one of your favorite books? Tell me in the comments!


Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s monthly e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.


  1. You’ve touched on something I only realised subconsciously when I write. This was a really useful post. What you’ve explained perhaps sheds light on why some writers (perhaps all of us from time to time) end up mechanically writing some scenes. Working in pictures is the cure for this. I also liked your insights about light and colour when aiding description. Keep up the good work.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I definitely find that if I’m having trouble with a scene, it’s usually because I’m not clear on some of the visuals. Often, it’s the setting. If I can get a better visual grasp on the setting, everything fits into place better.

  2. First to have to say this. It’s been quite some time since I started frequenting your website. I have to say your writing advice and books trump any of the overpriced seminars or so called masters of writing advice. This post alone could put Stephen Kings (autobiography masquerading as writing advice )book to shame. Thank you so much.

    I have always loved great imagery and continue to search through books for that one great image that could spur me on to bestselling glory. I grew up on blockbuster cinema, binge worthy TV and of course the glorious MTV and its spawn who recognised the power of imagery in music videos. All helping to jump-start this ahem.. young writer’s creativity.

    Quick question, when do you take us on our trip down Wakandan way? *grins*

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Great to hear you’re enjoying the site! I was really hoping to see Black Panther before the month was out, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen, and then I’ll be traveling. So I may have to wait for it on VOD. We’ll see. But I’m looking forward to it!

      • Oh, I was hoping on a “Black Panther report” too! – I just watched it … but I won’t say anything now … 😉 Looking forward to reading how you compare it to the other recent Marvel movies!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve heard reports that it suffers from the usual origins-story cliches, but from the trailers, it looks like it could have some really unique and interesting angles.

  3. Daeus Lamb says:

    I really appreciate this article. I’ve always written this way and always known that my best scenes are the ones I imagine most vividly beforehand, but I sometimes try to press ahead with scenes before I have them fully imagined. I also know I haven’t been filling my mind with images as much as I should be.

  4. Excellent advice, as usual.

    If a picture is worth a thousand words, most of what we write (except for what characters actually do, and the images *affect* that as well) is trying to give the essence of that picture in a more feasible number of words. But the goal should be getting the image to the reader, not the words that convey it.

    I like to think of depicting a setting as “mass telekinesis.” It’s telekinetic because the place’s details are all there “lying down in the shadows” of my imagination, and I have to pull them up into view by force of will. But it needs to be *mass* telekinesis because I can only do a scene justice when I can wrap my mind around all of it at once, to see how it looks as a whole.

  5. Thanks for this excellent article. Funny thing with my phased outline is that even though on the surface it seems more about the words than anything else, that little text/description/keywords is what paints the scene for me. And that helps me with writing the scene in the end.

    Your tip of reading (many) other books and watch movies is one I love. Movies can give you so much inspiration!

    “Little black squiggles on the page have the power to reach another human being’s mind and light it up with imagery just as vivid as anything that person might experience in the real world.”
    ^This is basically what I think when I say: A picture may paint a thousand words, but as a writer we paint a thousand pictures with one word.

    You asked for one of our favorite scenes. Well, I’ve got a few:
    * Tom Bombadil’s forest: I loved that particular part of Lord of the Rings. I still think we missed out at not having more of that in the movies.
    * Outlander….where to start. The Printshop scene, which is a vivid one for I think the entire fanbase. Diana Gabaldon wrote a perfect piece and the cast & crew of the television series made into perfection for the series. The boat scene where Jamie gets all the acupuncture needles from the little Chinese guy (can’t recall his name on the spot). They pretty much nailed it for me in the tv series, perfectly executed.

    Those are just a few 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Thanks for sharing! It’s always interesting to discover what images matter to different people.

  6. Got warm fuzzies over the Disney’s `Robin Hood’ clip. What you said about weather really making a scene- that movie! All sunshine- then the third act starts with a massive downpour. And when Robin gets trapped on the roof, his desperation is punctuated by lightning-bolts and the fiery red glare from the burning tower. I love the old Disney cartoons because they really know how to tell a story.

    When you mentioned images from books it made me think of one of my childhood favorites; `The Gammage Cup’ by Carol Kendall. It’s just full of images; the quiet, tree shaded streets, the slightly dusty museum, Muggles kneeling by the stream doing laundry, the damp, chilly gold mines, and most of all, the golden goblet, glimmering in the sunlight of the empty square of colorful streamers.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Wait, Rowling didn’t invent Muggles?

      • Rowlings did invent the current use. 🙂 Muggles is the main character of `The Gammage Cup,’ I think because the name sounds a little like `muddled’ and `struggles.’ The poor character keeps getting patted on the head and told that she’s just not bright enough to get what’s really at stake here. (Until she finally gets some confidence about halfway through the book, and leaves everyone blinking in shock.)

  7. First off, I LOVE Robin Hood!!! Even as an adult, though, Love Goes On still gets in the way of the good part. I love the song now, but I’d still rather go straight to Prince John, The Phony King of England.

    The most visceral image I have of a moment in a book is from Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon. He hates his eyes and always keeps them covered. The heroine notices it most when he’s taking his motorcycle helmet off and has his eyes closed before he can get his sunglasses back on.

    When you know the character’s history, and what his eyes really mean, it’s an incredibly powerful moment when he finally allows her to take his sunglasses off and look him in the eye.

    And then the first promise he asks of her is also gut-wrenching at every level. The image is burned in my brain for eternity, I’m pretty sure.

  8. Love this article, i try to put my self in my own writing to see what my characters see and notice and how they feel and respond to it. I have started a collection of images just for inspiration, plant life, animals, sea creatures, scenary and much more just to draw from the visuals of what already exists and has existed. Its always important to try to think from the readers perspective, the words will form images in their minds, so those images need to, as muxh aa possible, accurately tell the story.

  9. Kelsey Carnes says:

    Ever read anything by Toni Morrison? She was the first person I thought of after reading this post I love her narrative style, and she writes images very well. Postmodernists had imagery down to a science. 🙂

  10. I love all of this. I never considered myself a visual thinker, so I’ve always sought to combat that by “filling my mind with images” as much as possible. I love art history, and architecture, which helps me get creative in setting scenes.

    Example, maybe a character is in a courtyard surrounded by caryatids. Caryatids are statues of women in Grecian gowns, and are used as columns to support a structure. The Porch of the Maidens is the most famous example of this feature. Depending on what sort of place the heroine is in, maybe the caryatids are nymphs. But if she’s venturing into the fane of a dreadful deity, then maybe the caryatids are lamias or Medusae. Perhaps they even come alive …

    Lighting is one of my favorite ways to set the tone. A meadow of flowers haloed in the golden haze of the sun? Or the circumference of darkness that surrounds the heroine when she’s carrying her torch through subterranean passages? In a new translation I’m reading of the Iliad, I love the image of the watchfires burning at night in the camp of the Greeks.

    I used to scoff about symbols — trippy teachers who saw Freudian symbols in every little shadow — but I’ve reconsidered. Right now I’ve been trying to learn more about the symbolism behind certain plants or animals. Why would the jackal be the head of Anubis? Because the Egyptians saw jackals all the time and chose chose them at random? Reading up on them, I found out that they’re nocturnal (the time of ghosts), they frequent desolate areas, and they’re scavengers. It all comes together.

    Or, several times almond trees are used in motifs in the old testament. What’s special about the almond tree? They bloom shortly after the winter solstice, the longest night of the year (always darkest before the dawn, right?) When all else is dead in winter, the almond tree flourishes. In that case, almond blossoms could plausibly be used as a symbol of a promise that spring (good times) will come again.

    Combining this post with your “read widely” post, I’d say the key thing every writer must understand is that you can’t have a fertile imagination with a barren mind.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This is great. You’re an excellent example of someone identifying a potential weakness and confronting it with actionable (and fun) solutions.

  11. Thank you for yet another inspiring article! I typically read tons of books, listen to diverse podcasts and watch some TV including documentaries to ‘travel the world’ and open my mind. I do find that I avoid reading as much now that I’m deep into writing my second draft. I figured out the style, the images, the characters wiggle their way in my subconscious and somehow weave themselves into my own story. Do you ever struggle with that?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You’re definitely not alone in feeling like your style is being influenced by what you’re reading. However, this isn’t something I’ve ever personally struggled with. I honestly can’t imagine going that long without being able to read. 😉

      • It does feel like a huge void when I stop reading. I am now trying to circumvent by reading books that are not too close to the genre that I’m writing i.e. less fantasy. For someone who, despite a full-time job, two small children and an attempt at writing a book, still reads about a book every two days, not reading is not really an option…

  12. Interesting post! Thanks for sharing! 🙂 I like to use symbolism in my stories. It’s a pretty cool technique that not too many writers use nowadays, but I admire how many past writers of American Literature used symbolism in their fiction to deepen the meaning of their stories.

  13. How can I not completely love an article that lovingly references Disney’s animated Robin Hood (one of our family’s all-time favorites) – “A pox on the phony king of England!” To remind us that our visual sense informs our writing so intimately is helpful. Thank you.

  14. Hi! Great advice, thanks! I am usually guilty of putting not enough “pictures” in my story I think … I am the type who skips over too much description when reading a book (yeah, I know, one should not… ). So I tend to focus too much on the words too. Plus of course I know how everything is supposed to look like in my story, so I very often don’t bother describing it … But I try to improve. – Some time ago I was in the park with my kids, and looking around I suddenly realised the old, worn down building on the other side of a street was the office building in my story! 🙂 I quickly took a picture. – And the other day I was reading the news and found my arch villain in a respectable politician 🙂 (Ok, my arch villain is older, but it was exactly the type of person I was seeing in my mind.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s worth accepting that, as a reader, you don’t care for lengthy descriptions–and honoring that in your writing (since you’re writing to yourself as your ideal reader, right? 😀 ). You don’t need lengthy descriptions to create fabulous visuals. In fact, less is often more. It’s all about finding that one detail that makes the whole thing pop in the reader’s imagination.

  15. This is exactly what I was looking to put in my novel but couldn’t find the word for it. I can’t wait to study this post more and put it into action! Thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Have fun! 🙂

      • Okay, I did it! I’ve always had a hard time thinking in images (I’m the kind of person who would forget what the sky looks like), so this is helpful practice. Another thing I like to do is watch music videos with a similar theme to my scene to get a good idea of what that emotion looks like on a person and to be filled with related images. 😀

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          That’s a great exercise. I used to do that as a warm-up when I started writing. Because music is so inherently emotion, it’s a great way to kickstart all the senses before writing.

  16. This pairs well with what I’m learning in the writing class I’m currently taking at our local community college (taught by a children’s book illustrator no less). As always, thanks for sharing what you’ve discovered. It makes us all better writers 😀

  17. In my Lotus’s story-Lotus lives on an immortal island-shaped like Ireland. On this immortal island has mountains, trees, rivers, and a bay and also a two-floor palace and can’t not seen by mortal eyes.

    One line I like from the princess bride from the Spaniard by name is Ingo Montoya who killed my father, prepare to die.

    I like to see movies to think about what to write. In my WIP the only map I will have is where the characters travel not the whole Planet which like circle shaped.

  18. One line I like from the princess bride from the Spaniard by name is Ingo Montoya who killed my father, prepare to die.

    I like to see movies to think about what to write. In my WIP the only map I will have is where the characters travel not the whole Planet which like circle shaped.

    I do like to paint pictures for the readers but not to much detail. The dining hall downstairs is a big room with a long wooden table, wooden benches with the name of M for Maia. Also, a table that has scrolls on it only the immortal gods that can look upon it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s one of my favorite lines too. 🙂

      • Ms. Albina says:

        For me sometimes is to write fighting scenes where a character has warrior skills fights the other. how many paragraphs would you write for a fighting scene one or two?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Depends on the rhythm of the story. If the fight is important to the plot, it will probably need more than a paragraph in order to offer the right amount of dramatic weight.

  19. First of all, I love the Nightwish tune. They’re headlining a festival I’m going to in August and I have to see them now. My problem is that I have the images freely dancing around in my mind but I can’t seem to always find the words to best match that image.

  20. Very interesting article! I realize that this is what I’ve been doing all along in a way. I have a short (very short) list of scene ideas I’m mulling over. I don’t write anything until I can visualize the scene clearly – as if I was watching a movie scene! If it’s muddy, unclear or confused (which is most of the time) I stick it back on the burner to cook a little longer. 😀 It’s taking me a long time but I refuse to rush it.

    Love the reference to ‘Robin Hood’ by the way, it’s one of my all time favorites.

  21. Fantastic article! I find that assigning a song to a scene when I’m writing really helps me with this. I also like to use ambiance videos on YouTube so I can sort of listen to the environment I’m writing about while I’m writing it. I still need a lot more practice with this though, so thank you for all the wonderful tips!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Music is really powerful for me too. Random songs will often be enough to inspire whole new visual scenes.

  22. Jenny North says:

    Another terrific article, thanks! My head is swimming with ideas. 🙂

    I made a point to incorporate more symbolism into my last story and I constantly had to remind myself that it’s a lot like subtext–you really need to trust the reader and resist the temptation to over-explain things. Still, it introduced some new layers to play with. For instance, it was occasionally fun to have the characters instinctively react to the symbols in different ways since it gave insights into their personalities.

    But it’s soooo tempting to point that stuff out to a reader. Right now I’m reading this book now that’s well-written, except it has a tendency to want to explain everything when it happens. It’s got mystery but not wonder, and that’s kind of a shame.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, great point. If you’re always poking the reader and going, “Look, look–it’s a symbol!”–it kinda defeats the purpose. 😉 Symbols are most effective when they get a chance to communicate with the reader’s subconscious.

  23. sam steidel says:

    Speak my mind?
    Seriously, How can one possibly write a fictional story and not do so in imagery. Where is there not a scene that invokes the visual? Dialogue? Is action, people talking in a place with a reason. Setting? Is, well, must be visual by its nature. Character? Is that not only how a person looks but how they act? Plot? Got me there, plot is just tying all the scenes together.
    I am simply saying, This is not only important to good writing, this is good writing.

  24. I’m re-reading one of my favorite books right now, and it’s a book that seared images into my brain the first time I read it. The book is called Revelation Space, and one of the very first images involves a woman named Ilya Volyova riding an elevator a thousand decks down the spine of a starship called the Nostalgia for Infinity, past vast habitation and recreation centers fallen decrepit from abandonment, entire decks filled with overgrown forest and jungle, and de-pressurized chambers storing all manner of smaller craft plundered by the crew.

    The Nostalgia for Infinity is so old no one can remember who built it or how long it has existed. It was built to carry a quarter million passengers, but in the opening chapters there are only seven people aboard the ship, and only two of them are awake.

    Volyova is descending to the cold depths of the ship, the lower decks where others fear to tread, to consult the captain.

    And then we meet him.

    He’s not a living person so much as he’s a corpse frozen to near-absolute zero to retard the growth of a nanovirus that attacks his machine parts and melds them with his flesh, creating a monstrosity whose growths have shattered the casing of his cryocasket. Volyova warms his cryocasket just enough to allow nanomachines in his brain to come to life, simulating the firing of neurons along his synaptic pathways.

    And finally his words echo from speakers set into the wall while his corpse remains inert: “Where are we?”


    I had never read anything like that when I picked up Revelation Space, and I was electrified. And oh, the rest of the book does not disappoint. The meeting with the captain is merely the apéritif to a harrowing space opera that takes the reader between star systems, on the edge of sanity to the true revelation at the heart of the book.

    So yeah, images count big time. The author, Alastair Reynolds, excels at creating unique and vivid imagery, often on an absurdly massive scale.

    This is a good post, KM, thank you for reminding us of the extreme importance of sketching those scenes for our readers. And I agree wholeheartedly with the quote up top saying it’s the images, not the finer details of plot, that remain in a reader’s mind long after he or she puts the book down.

  25. Jeffrey Barlow says:

    This is a fun article to read, considering I’m working on a graphic novel.

  26. Joe Long says:

    My memory has quite a collection of images. I treat my written story as a film. I picture each scene. I’ve decided where the characters are and what’s supposed to happen, then I close my eyes and watch them play it out to my direction. Much of the dialogue is spontaneous. I note all the visuals, including things like body language, to describe in the text. That way, when someone is speaking, I can imply the emotions by the flow of their speech and their movements. Often I say the dialogue out loud and watch for how I express it without thinking. Things like communicating an anxiety in the speech by stuttering and looking away.

    Now although I have all the imagery in my mind it doesn’t always make it’s way to words. That conscious part is deciding what is and isn’t necessary to include and to make sure everything works together logically.

    • Joe Long says:

      Cohesion! That’s the word for that last paragraph above.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, you raise a good point in that it’s not always best for the story if the author remains absolutely true to the vision. Sometimes we have to kill a few darlings.

  27. Cliff Farris says:

    Having worked on all five continents, and with a huge range of people, I have many images in my mind. My approach is to call an appropriate scene to mind and use every writing trick I can summon to heighten the sensory impressions and vividness. I put my characters into that scene.


  1. […] mistakes to avoid, Stavros Halvatzis shows how to write page turners, K.M. Weiland recommends don’t write scenes, write images, Terry Odell discusses suspension of disbelief, and Janice Hardy gives us a handy tip for crafting […]

  2. […] “When you think about it, the transformative power of the written word is no less phenomenal than the technological miracles of computers, televisions, and smarts phones. Both are alchemy. Technology uses wires and circuits to turn code into the wonder of light and color. Writing does exactly the same thing. Little black squiggles on the page have the power to reach another human being’s mind and light it up with imagery just as vivid as anything that person might experience in the real world.” I’ve been brainstorming for HA this past weekend, well, over a week or two now. Flashes of scenes come to me. I hope when I’m ready to write this story, all of it comes with me. […]

Speak Your Mind