No novel is truly complete without well-developed imagery. It’s the yin to the yang that is plot – without it, your novel won’t be balanced. Even the most gripping of action-adventure books, or the most gruesome of murder mysteries need at least some imagery to bring it to life.
Imagery is how you engage all five senses through the mind. If it’s done right, it will create a feeling for your book, an atmosphere that will pull your readers into your story in a way that plot alone cannot do. Want an example of imagery at its best? This passage is from Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours:
My fingers positively itched to drift at length along their spines, to arrive at one whose lure I could not pass, to pluck it down, to inch it open, then to close my eyes and inhale the soul-sparking scent of old and literate dust.
Admittedly, Kate Morton is a successful writer of women’s literary fiction. Because of that, you may be tempted to think that imagery doesn’t have the same importance for the genre novels that perhaps you write. But you would be wrong, and by overlooking imagery, you’re cheating your readers of the chance to really lose themselves in your book.
I write genre fiction – I’m a historical romance writer. Imagery is as much a part of my books as the inevitable love that happens between the main characters. Here is an example from my latest novel, A Noble Deception:
MOIRA HAD BEEN dreaming. A terrible dream of a galloping horse; a destrier as black as midnight. Its hooves were forged of steel, and they pounded the dirt as if they were pounding the drums of hell. Above, the sky was red with fire. The unholy light gleamed off the destrier’s slick, black body, and was reflected in its flat, dead eyes.
In the dream she had stood, petrified, as the destrier tore a path directly for her. She tried to run, but her legs would not move. Her limbs were held ransom by the white hot fear that surged through every part of her body. She tried to scream, but the ragged pull of her breaths was the only sound other than the terrible drumbeat of the destrier’s steel hooves.
Do you see how the imagery helps set the tone of the dream? Can you imagine the hooves forged of steel? Can you hear them pounding the dirt? Can you feel the white hot fear that she feels? It’s the imagery that pulls you into the writing, and makes you feel like you’re right there with Moira, dreaming the same dream.
Without imagery, you are missing half your story. Regardless of your genre, you need the reader to identify with your characters. The best way to do this is to pull your readers into your novel by all five of the senses.
Remember: your plot carries your readers along, but your imagery brings your plot to life.