Monday, April 28, 2014

Unity in Imagery

“. . . the unity of effect or impression is a point of greatest importance. . . . without unity of impression, the deepest effects cannot be brought about.”—Edgar Alan Poe.*

Obviously you want to maintain tone in your writing to establish atmosphere. You don't write a somber scene in which your leading character's thoughts “scamper” through their head when they hear the “cheerful” ring of the telephone. You could make a case for cheerful because it juxtaposes with the mood of the scene, but only if it appeared without the other misstep. Scamper is the real offender here. There is something light and playful about the word that nudges the reader off course emotionally. Just think of how totally you would be thrown out of the scene if the character scampered over to the phone. The difference is a matter of degrees.

Your imagery should support the scene as well. However clever or accurate you may think a given simile, if it distracts from the intent of the scene, it probably has to go. But it's also a good idea for your images to support each other. This is to eliminate clutter.

Developing writers have a tendency to jump around with their imagery. He exhaled smoke like exhaust from a rusted Buick. It was the color of sour milk. The crowd moved like a school of fish. Things like that. Those images could well fit the atmosphere of the scene, but not one of them ties into the other. They're disjointed. The reader is jerked along from one to the next and doesn't know how they add up.

When you write concurrent images, it helps make a scene feel solid. As an example, I wrote a scene set in a jazz club that has an entrance like a cave. The music inside ripples, builds into a wave and comes crashing down on everyone. Later, a musician cups a hand like a great shell to his ear to catch what his bandmates are saying. A thread of water related imagery runs through the scene, cementing the sense of place. I stumbled on the idea because I happened to have named the club The Blue Room. You should look to your scene when possible to suggest a direction for your imagery. Use every part of the writing buffalo.

It's actually easier to work this way than a helter-skelter approach, because once you have your first image you've given yourself something to build on. Now you'll know whereabouts to reach for the next one instead of having to start from scratch each time.

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