How To Paint Your Words With Beautiful Imagery: Tips For Writers

As a little girl I was a horrible artist. My teachers didn’t seem to catch on that I was embarrassed about my artwork, so they continued to ask, “What is it?”

Most kids want us to be able to see what they drew  just by one glance, so years later I used this piece of wisdom when I taught elementary school. The dreaded question, “What is it?” was replaced with, “Tell me about your picture.”

Now, I am a painter of words, but it doesn’t come any easier sometimes than art. Those of you who know me, know that I am all about the plot. I love plot, brainstorming, tension, but wordsmithing is something that I have to make an effort to build as I edit my work.

For those of you who struggle with wordsmithing, here are a few tips I learned about painting visual imagery from My Book Therapy that may help you.

*Use all five senses in your scenes. Sense of smell is actually the strongest memory for most people. So mentioning the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, we have just created the mood of coming home for our readers in that scene. The same could be said for the smell of bacon grease. These are smells we remember.

*Use metaphor. He belly flopped across the gymnastics mat like a whale hitting the surface of the ocean. Okay, so maybe this one is a bit unkind, but you get the point. Also use this on a larger scale by finding one object in the scene to pull out the way a character is feeling. If the character feels free, she might admire the eagle that flew over the trees.

*Use Power Words With Mood Hue. Different words have a slightly different feeling on the page. For example, the words sprint for the goal feels much different than his feet devoured the grass in a ferocious torrent down the field. The latest one feels more desperate. If you are writing a scene in a specific mood, then use verbs that have that hue to them.

*Describe the parts of the scenery that reinforces the mood. My favorite example of this is in the movie twister when the hero/heroine go in to the barn because the tornado is coming. When they look around, they see all of these tools with sharp edges. The don’t notice the hay that reminds them of hay rides and moonlight. No, they see things that match the fear of the scene, the chance that they could die.

*Add vivid descriptions of color. Don’t just call it brown, call it brown the color of coffee grounds, or carrot orange, or something that gives us an image in our mind. Black licorice curls framed her face. you get the idea.

Example of a story clip pre-edit:

There was no way she’d eat that! Lizzie stared down the meatloaf and swallowed. She looked at the knife beside her plate and tried not to imagine sinking it into the brown and green mass of meat. She shivered. The strawberry shortcake cup that held milk a moment ago was empty. Nothing to drown it with. She just have to pinch her nose. 

Example of a story clip post-edit:

No way she could eat mystery meat! Lizzie stared down the rank odored meatloaf and swallowed. The knife beside her plate didn’t stand a chance against the mud brown and goo green mass of meat. She speared it with her fork, brown liquid the color of oil gurgled out from it and stained the white plate. She shivered. No milk in her strawberry shortcake cup to choke it down. Why mom called the roadkill looking blob yummy, didn’t make sense. Last time it’d tasted like the bottom of a muddy tennis shoe. Lizzie’s stomach lurched. She’d just have to plug her nose.

These are just a few of the changes you could make when editing. Try your hand at this and write your own version of Lizzie and the Meatloaf in the comments below.


About Michelle Lim

Author Michelle Lim is the Brainstorming/Huddle Coach with My Book Therapy Press and the Midwest Zone Director for American Christian Fiction Writers. Michelle’s romantic suspense is represented by Karen Solem of Spencillhill Associates and has gained contest recognition in the Frasier, the Genesis, and the Phoenix Rattler, winning the Genesis in 2015 for her genre. Michelle writes devotionals for The Christian Pulse Online Magazine and Putting On The New. Since her nonfiction book release, Idea Sparking: How To Brainstorm Conflict In Your Novel, through public speaking and online chats Michelle helps writers discover the revolutionary power of brainstorming to bring new life to their stories.

3 thoughts on “How To Paint Your Words With Beautiful Imagery: Tips For Writers

  1. Roadkill. Her mom could drown the cow paddy lump of meat in all the garlic she wanted and call it meatloaf, but it still looked and smelled like roadkill to her.
    This was fun, Michelle.

  2. dtopliff says:

    Great sustained analogy–your posts are always helpful.

    • Julia says:

      No way. Lizzie’s mind gagged at the brownish, green-flecked lump on her plate. Mystery meat meatloaf. Gaaa… If the appearance of the gooey mess didn’t do it, the aroma…Hmm… Her nose wrinkled sideways…she’d smelled that smell somewhere else…uuugh…Tommy’s sneakers. Poking it with the fork only made it worse. And that brown stuff seeping out?
      Her mom was still beaming down at the concoction. Lizzie couldn’t hurt her feelings and sent a weak smile. But to call it yummy?! Too bad Prince ran away two years ago. Lizzie could use that dog right about now. Come to think of it, hadn’t they been having meatloaf the night he ran away?

      That was fun, Michelle. Good exercise.

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