Have you ever read a book and feel as if you're transported to other places and times. As if we’re sipping coffee after dark in a late-night Denny's or enjoying the beauty of Bouville port from the top of the hills. These are some visual and auditory aspects regarding Imagery. But, it’s so much more than a picture in our mind or an imaginary sound.
What is Imagery in Fiction?
Imagery is a literary device is a technique a writer uses to convey ideas and messages to their readers. Imagery is painting with words in order to fuel the reader’s imagination. To explain it simply, Imagery is the feeling that when you read a book it makes you feel like you’re seeing, feeling, smelling, or tasting the same thing as the character in the book. So, Imagery is the use of language to create feelings in the reader’s mind or creating a "mental image" through the words. Stephen King describes imagery as it "does not occur on the writer’s page; it occurs in the reader’s mind. To describe everything is to supply a photograph in words; to indicate the points which seem the most vivid and important to you, the writer, is to allow the reader to flesh out your sketch into a portrait."
An easy way to use the imagery in your writing you can use words, phrases, and sentences that connect with the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. As it is designed to connect a reader to a piece of writing, I can say it is one of the most powerful tools you have to communicate your messages.
What are Imagery Types?
There are 5 different types of imagery linked to our 5 senses which as a writer I prefer to show not tell:
How to Use Imagery
If you want to use more imagery in your writing, you might try using the right selection of adjectives, figurative language, and even diction. I can say the master of Imagery is Gustave Flaubert. His beautiful novel Madame Bovary(1856) is one of the major achievements in the excellent use of symbolism and use of imagery. The apparent purpose of Flaubert is to paint pictures with words, bringing scenes and settings alive with the astonishing use of descriptions. As Levi mentions, Flaubert’s descriptions are often built up like pictures, from left to right of background to foreground, normally even moving through the senses, from sound and smell to touch and sight. Here are some examples from this novel:
The future was a dark corridor, and at the far end the door was bolted.
Large dishes of yellow cream, that trembled with the least shake of the table...
The smell of melted butter penetrated through the walls when he saw patients, just as in the kitchen one could hear the people coughing in the consulting room and recounting their histories...
Madame Bovary turned away her head, as at the loathing of another bitterer poison that rose to her mouth.
[A]s she was tidying a drawer in readiness to leave, she pricked her finger on something. It was the wire in her wedding-bouquet.
The music of the ball was still murmuring in her ears.
Although figurative language and literary devices are often used to create imagery, they’re not always required. In fact, overusing adjective after adjective is often a sign of amateur writers. The goal of imagery is to make readers feel like they’re seeing the scene not being told so.
What is Imagery in Transgressive Fiction?
Describing the scenes in any type of fiction can benefit from imagery no matter what genre you're working on. However, the transgressive image normally focuses on taboos and sin to transcend the self. So, the imagery is dark and brooding such as dark empty spaces and dimly lit areas, scenes happening at night time, suicidal thoughts, painful and bitter feelings, exhaustion, etc. Let me use Chuck Palahniuk Imagery, as usual, to show what I mean:
Chuck uses imagery a lot and it's normally from the perspective of the narrator that the reader visualizes much of what he/she is seeing and feeling. He paints a picture in almost every scene about what is happening or happened and how it went down using all 5 senses.
In Fight Club
Last week, I tapped a guy and he and I got on the list for a fight. This guy must've had a bad week, got both my arms behind my head in a full nelson and rammed my face into the concrete floor until my teeth bit open the inside of my cheek and my eye was swollen shut and was bleeding, and after I said, stop, I could look down and there was a print of half my face in blood on the floor.
In Invisible Monsters
The way my face is without a jaw, my throat just ends in sort of a hole with my tongue hanging out. Around the hole, the skin is all scar tissue: dark red lumps and shiny the way you'd look if you got the cherry pie in a pie-eating contest. If I let my tongue hang down, you can see the roof of my mouth, pink and smooth as the inside of a crab's back, and hanging down around the roof is the white vertebrae horseshoe of the upper teeth I have left. There are times to wear a veil and there are not.
The police are asking through the bedroom door, why did I make a batch of strawberry daiquiris before I called them? Because we were out of raspberries. Because, can't they see, it just does not matter. Time was not of the essence.
I would like to mention that the collapse of the social and moral order in the 20th century resulted in the aesthetic value of literary work. This made writers intentionally use disillusionment with the umbilical connection between art and reality. In this case, Philip Roth stated that "the 20th century challenged the writer beyond his imagination and left him aloof with more questions than answers, unable to understand, describe, and then make credible much of the social reality" (Source).
Imagine how art can change with the shock of nuclear bombs, the Red Scare, the collapse of the Soviets, the power of the mass media, and consumer culture? Morality and mysticism deprivation!
Personally, I try to take a minimalistic approach toward writing. As a reader, even my favorite authors lose my attention with drawn-out descriptions of scenery, and because of this, I need to make a conscious effort to create images to set the scene. If you read Feminomaniacs, I set each story in a setting that doesn't need much of a description of visual imagery. By so, I could focus more on intimate feelings such as touch, hearing, and smell. Normally, happens inside a house, a room, a lift, a toilet,... These settings are meant to link to one another and create awareness towards the environment rather than location.
Remember, since the writer of originality is the generation X writers who were always shocking and scandalous, disturbing and repelling so the goal of such writer to use such intense imageries was to urge the readers to reconsider the function and capacity of art in any form. There are many critics such as Elizabeth Young who define this new literature (postmodern, absurdism, and transgressive) as "a blank fiction that is characterized by an excess of crime and sexuality, an overload of media images and a consumption frenzy" (source).
The imagery in transgressive fiction is violent, shocking, and brutally honest but it is popular because it is the fiction of the populace. In other words, transgressive fiction deals with the basic question of the reality of everyday life and it often tells the stories of the underdogs of society, understated and disillusioned young, white-collar slaves, drug addicts, street gangsters, prostitution, corruption, and boys/girls who never grow up. Using such imagery, transgressive fiction proves to be the new realist fiction because it rises from the real experiences of ordinary people who are not fancy, imaginary, and perfect.
Now, your turn, tell me what are some of your favorite examples of imagery from literature? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Published in 1857, Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" was banned on sexual grounds. In the trial, Imperial Advocate Ernest Pinard said, "No gauze for him, no veils — he gives us nature in all her nudity and crudity." Madame Bovary is a woman full of dreams — without any hope of finding a reality that will fulfill them. She marries a provincial doctor, tries to find love in all the wrong places, and eventually brings about her own ruination. In the end, she escapes in the only way she knows how. This novel is an exploration of the life of a woman who dreams too large. Here adultery and other actions have been controversial. (source)