How can Authors Paint Pictures with Words?

27 Aug






Successful authors may use just a few words to evoke an image, or they may use a whole page. Poets may use only a few words to describe a person, or a scene. Novelists may use a whole page to describe the same person, or scene.  In either case, the reader will be able to feel, smell, see, or taste what the author is describing.

What are Visual Triggers?
Visual triggers are words, people, or places that paint pictures in our minds. For instance, if I write the words “She moved as slowly as a sloth”, the reader is likely to envision the slowest-moving mammal on Earth that sleeps in trees as a defensive measure.

Why is it Important to Trigger Visual Cues with Words?
Visual cues are important in order to give the reader a wider vision. We want to more clearly visualize what is being written. It’s the difference between viewing a tweet and clicking on the tweet in order to get taken to the related website.  For example: recently, I saw a tweet that advertised a beautiful diamond ring. That tweet prompted me to go to the website to get the wider vision of that company’s products and services.

The reader needs to be helped to look through a wide-angle lens, not a telephoto lens. For example, a reader will appreciate Shakespeare’s character, Hamlet’s, famous “To be or not to be…” soliloquy more if he understands the context of the soliloquy: Hamlet has recently been visited by his father’s ghost who informed Hamlet that he was killed by Hamlet’s uncle. According to most sources, the despondent Hamlet is considering suicide during that soliloquy.
What are some types of visual triggers that authors use?

There are three ways to trigger pictures in a reader’s mind:

  1. Suzanne Arruda is an example of a modern novelist that uses detailed descriptions of settings and characters. Literally, she paints pictures in the reader’s mind. The reader is transported to 1920’s Kenya and Europe. When I read her novels, I feel the heat, I smell the smells, and I can visualize the people and places about which she writes. I am on safari. I am solving mysteries and murders.
  1. William Wordsworth was one of the most famous English poets of the early 19th He knew how to paint pictures with a minimum of words. Any reader of Wordsworth’s poetry will find himself instantly transported to Wordsworth’s beloved corner of England, the Lakes district, with only a few words. Wordsworth’s brief descriptions of local streams and hills transport me to those streams and hills. I am lying on the cool grass, relaxing in a much less hectic time and place.
  1. Bloggers fall somewhere in the middle of poets and novelists. Bloggers will normally use more words than a poet, and fewer words than a novelist, to get their point across.


How to Use Words as Visual Triggers
Some forms of writing don’t lend themselves to detailed descriptions of characters and settings. However, examples, analogies, and metaphors are useful for most writing—fiction, or non-fiction. Some examples and metaphors in my book include:

  • Diamonds start out as soft carbon. Over millions of years, heat and pressure compact the carbon, pushing it deeper and deeper under the Earth’s surface. The fully-formed diamonds are the strongest mineral on the planet.
  • A fine china teacup begins as a shapeless lump of clay on a potter’s wheel. The teacup is formed on the potter’s wheel. Then, the teacup is fired in a kiln, painted, and glazed. The final product is a rare luxury item, inaccessible to the general public.
  • Michelangelo, the famous Italian Renaissance sculptor and artist, formed some of the most breathtaking sculptures of all time from huge slabs of marble.
  • Meat can be tenderized in a solution of citric acid, such as that in pineapple juice. Meat that has soaked in a pineapple-juice marinade for at least two hours will be tender because the citric acid has broken down the tendons in the meat.

In my book, I used the examples and analogies above to illustrate the benefits of challenges. I wanted to illustrate how hard work, “pressure”, and “heat” can improve the lives of people in the end. I wanted people to visualize themselves as a flawless diamond, a teacup so precious that I have never seen one, a celebrated sculptor/artist, and meat so tender that it can be cut with a fork.

Traci Lawrence writes about her passion: communication, relationships, the value of individuals and rising above verbal bullying, or trash talk. She lives in the Northern Virginia area of the United States and teaches English, among other subjects.  Please find more on her blog, and read her book: Accept No Trash Talk




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Posted by on August 27, 2014 in Writing


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