For today’s post, I’m going to talk about the third component of tone and how you can use it in your story. Imagery is one of the most effective components, so take notes. Seriously, this has to be my favorite one, not to be confused with details.
Imagery isn’t just the little things like the adjectives that you use to describe the scene. Imagery is applying to the reader’s senses, using figurative language and dialogue and actions of the characters in order to get the picture in the reader’s mind rolling. Details can be for anything in the story, but imagery is pertaining to that picture.
For the sake of actually having a description I can analyze, I’m going to use a passage from Looking for Lily:
The school looked just as it had last time he’d seen it, but this time it looked emptier, to him anyway. The glass double doors seemed to hold onto each other for support and the roof seemed to slant so far it was hanging on, trying not to fall. The red bricks that always climbed the walls appeared to be slouching, not sitting up straight, and supporting the structure. The words, “Maple Valley Private,” seemed to droop on the front of the sign, frowning. It was as if the private school itself had heard the news and was mourning the loss of its students.
Okay, the tone I intended to show in this passage was desperate and depressing. I used imagery to do this by painting a picture in the head of the reader. There are a few tricks I used.
Firstly, I used figurative language. I used personification by describing the building like it was a person, describing how the doors were holding onto each other and how the roof was hanging on. This doesn’t actually happen in real life, but it paints a picture in your head of the school that is just barely hanging in there. This helps to show the tone of desperation and depression.
In this case, one mistake I made was not applying to more senses than just sight. If I were to rewrite this description of the school, I might include something about how the air was cold when my character walked in or how he could hear the silence of the classrooms louder than he thought possible. Things like that will apply to the senses, pulling the reader even further into the story.
Along with sensory details and personification, you can paint a picture for the reader by adding in allusions. Allusions are words that trigger emotions or prior knowledge in the reader. It would be like if you said that a character was a “regular goldilocks”. The phrase immediately references you to the fairytale.
There are plenty of other components to imagery in itself, but these are just a few ways you can use imagery to apply to tone. I’ll have to write another post sometime about ways you can use imagery to draw in the reader in your story.
Here’s my challenge for you: That’s right, go get that passage that we’ve been focusing on for the last few posts. Highlight all of the parts of the passage where you use imagery. If you don’t use any imagery, try adding to it. Keep in mind what the tone is that you intend to portray in the scene. If you’re imagery doesn’t use any kind of figurative language, maybe try to sneak some of that in there. Maybe even an allusion or two. And if you aren’t applying to more than one sense, then definitely go in and work on that.
That’s the good thing about learning about all of these things and seeing mistakes in my old publication. I am noticing the things I did wrong so that my new novel can be awesome. Do the same for yourself. If you are editing and seeing all of these problems with your story, be glad. It means that you are a better writer now than when you first wrote it.
Take a step back and look at how your scene changed with the use of imagery. Is your tone more reinforced? Does it really suck you into the scene? Good. You’re improving. But keep a hold on that one scene for one more post because tomorrow we are going to end our little tone-expedition by going over syntax. Mmmm… syntax is fun.
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Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!