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Why is it Important to Use Imagery in Narrative Writing?

UserSienna Kelly time16 March,2019

Truth is stranger than fiction.” Well, that’s debatable, but fiction can be a lot of things that reality can never be. This is one of the reasons why a majority of readers like fiction over non-fiction. However, if you analyse these two types of content, you may find plenty of other differences besides the one mentioned above.

Narrative Writing

Interestingly, most fiction writers prefer the narrative style of writing. However, it is also possible to write non-fiction using the narrative style. Basically, it's about the preferences of individual writers. Since fiction is all about story-telling, narrative writing is the perfect fit for the task. However, a fiction writer must know how to use literary devices for effective narrative writing.

What is narrative writing?

The word "narrative" means story. It is no wonder why narrative writing is broadly defined as story writing. This form of writing is characterised by the main character in a particular setting, which engages with a crisis or event in a significant way. Sometimes, the narrator of the story is a character in it and narrates the story from his/her perspective.

There are specific elements that every piece of narrative writing needs to have.

  • Setting: The time and location where the story takes place.
  • Characters: The people who push forward the story from one point to the next.
  • Plot: An event or a series of events that give the characters something to react to.
  • Conflict: The struggle between opposing forces that create interest in the stories.

Take any book (fiction) for instance. You will always find these elements in writing. In the Harry Potter books, by JK Rowling, there’s always a setting – mostly Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a bunch of characters, an interesting plot (like the Triwizard Tournament in the fourth book), and a lot of conflict between the characters.

Image Source: Literaryideas.com

Most pieces of narrative writing follow the structure mentioned above. However, it depends solely on the knowledge, skills and preferences of a writer and how the narrative is presented to the readers. Use of more vivid details of the settings as well as the characters allows the readers to visualise the story as if it is happening right in front of them. This is where imagery plays a larger role.

What is imagery?

Imagery is a literary device that is used by poets, novelists and other writers to help create images in the readers’ mind. It often uses figurative and metaphorical language to boost a reader’s experience through their senses. Imagery allows a writer to picture the whole story instead of just bluntly describing it. Here are some examples that will help you understand the use of imagery.

The forest was dark and dim.

  • Here, the adjectives ‘dark” and “dim” are used to give a visual image of the forest that the writer is talking about.

He screamed for help as the mugger approached.

  • Here, “screamed” appeal to the readers’ auditory sense.

In a majority of the cases, imagery is assisted by a figure of speech like metaphor, personification, simile and onomatopoeia to describe the story more vividly.

The significance of imagery in narrative writing

Stephen King once said, “Imagery does not occur on the writer’s page; it occurs in the reader’s mind”. As a writer, your task is to deliver a photograph using nothing but words. Depending on the importance of a scene, you can describe everything in detail to turn the sketch into a portrait.

It's true that our senses are our basic gateways to perception. Everything that we experience on a daily basis can be associated with one or more senses. Science says that our senses, especially the sense of smell can trigger strong memories. By appealing to the senses of a reader, you can add more impact to your message.

Interestingly, sensory stimulation enables the readers to feel more engrossed with the work. Let’s get a look at these following examples.

Example1: The handshake we had, was very unpleasant.

There is no doubt that this sentence does provide a good description of a simple gesture of a handshake. However, it does not tug the emotional chord of the readers.

Example 2: Shaking his hand felt like wringing a dead fish.

When you read this sentence, it gives you a more powerful image. Moreover, it uses a literary device – simile. Needless to say, the second example looks more interesting to read as it offers depth and details.

While narrating a story, it becomes important for you to engage the readers with vivid details of what’s going on. The more information you put, the clearer the picture becomes in the mind of the readers.

Next time you look into a picture, just notice the details – colours, background, texture, weather, the positioning of people in it, their expressions, etc. Even the tiniest details of the photograph can be put into words. Now, when you think about it, you can do it the other way round as well and create a picture with words.

In narrative writing, the writer takes the role of a narrator. So, the writer needs to draw everything that the narrator sees. Imagery is the best tool for a narrative writer as it allows him/her to offer the readers a complete picture with attention to details.

As a writer, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the narrating character, and describe all his sensory experiences – what he/she sees, feels, smells, hears and tastes. Stephen King urges his fellow writers to be specific and precise. He suggests, “See everything before you write it.”

A writer who uses rich sensory details of imagination while writing their story propels the readers into a zone of high details. On the other hand, writers who do not use imagery often come across as mechanical and flat. That does not work for narrative writing.

Imagery allows you to use language to produce a lasting effect without directly telling the readers how to react. The best thing about imagery is that it lets you use both descriptive and figurative language to draft a piece of content. So, it's absolutely a writer's choice of how he/she wants to engage the readers with the sensory details.

Imagery is really useful when it comes to describing a particular experience or drawing an analogy between related things. If it can be used properly, it can bring a great deal of context to the readers. As mentioned, it can also make the scenes and situations more lively and realistic.

Helen Keller obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree even after she lost the abilities to hear and see at an early age. She used other senses to experience things happening around her. Most readers are blessed with all the five senses. Imagine how a reading experience can be if you, as a writer, can stimulate all the senses of the readers by using words.

To conclude,

Imagery and narrative writing go hand-in-hand. A narrative piece doesn’t usually sound interesting to the readers if it does not use descriptive and figurative language in the form of imagery. Stephen King once mentioned, “Image leads to story, and story leads to everything else. But also remember that a writer’s greatest pleasure is in seeing, and seeing well”.

Fiction is all about letting the readers enjoy the moment. It is the job of a writer to ensure that the readers have the necessary elements to enjoy the story thoroughly.

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