Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Monday Musing: Thinking (and Writing) In Pictures

Written By: Tracy - Sep• 28•10

‘City of Words’, lithograph by Vito Acconci, 1999

On March 5 of 1946, Winston Churchill received an honorary degree from Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. During his acceptance speech he described the divide between the Soviet states of Eastern Europe and the Western European countries as being divided by an “Iron Curtain.”

What makes Winston Churchill’s speech so compelling is that he uses evocative imagery to paint a picture of the divide – both political and later physical between the Soviet countries of the east and the democratic countries of the west. Churchill’s words came to characterize this divide so well that long before I knew who Winston Churchill was, I knew what the Iron Curtain was thanks to CBS news.

The reason that Winston Churchill’s words were so effective is that human beings think in pictures.

This is why metaphor works so well to describe a scene. We all know exactly what it means to be a couch potato, or to have a heart of stone. Some metaphors are so overused that they become cliché.  Think outside the box. Avoid it like the plague.

As writers, our job is to paint a picture for our readers. If our readers can take our words and build a mental picture, then we have done a successful job.  The better the words are at painting a picture, the better the story.

For example, this quote is by Terry Pratchett:

“Most gods throw dice, but Fate plays chess, and you don’t find out til too late that he’s been playing with two queens all along.”

The metaphor of Fate playing chess puts a concrete image in your head.

Another good example of a strong image with words comes from The Great Gatsby:

"It takes two to make an accident."

Because readers think in pictures, they are draw to strong images. This is why there is such a draw to movies. Particularly summer blockbusters such as The Matrix or Inception with their slick images.

Even when I post this blog, I tend to get more hits if I put a picture at the top of the page. The picture draws someone to the post.

If you want to engage someone in your writing, try to visualize your story as fully as possible before committing it to paper. Do you know every little important detail about that scene?  Now put the important details on paper in such as way that your readers can see them just as clearly.

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