How do you bring an image to life, share a story that paints a beautiful pictiure in the reader's mind? In her final post on editing, Xena Knox takes us into the world of vivid writing and deep description. 

A picture is worth a thousand words. So what to do if you're a novelist and unable to collaborate with an illustrator or cinematographer? You write vividly.

What is vivid writing?

Vivid writing and description capture a moment so perfectly that the reader's senses and imagination are stirred to acutely picture the scene and characters.

Why write vividly? 

Vivid is bright, intense, all things vibrant and dazzling. The obvious excitement and exhilaration aside, by writing vividly and visually, you can move your reader, draw them into your story world and empower them to make-it-their-own – even filling in gaps left by the author. That ownership and clear visualisation means your story will feel real, your characters alive and will endure way beyond the end of your novel.

How to write vividly.

You've written your first draft – or perhaps you're editing as you go along – so how do you ensure words on a page transform into vivid images?

1) Show don't tell.

It's an oldy but a goody. Stop the exposition. Stop telling the reader what to feel. Show them the magic because seeing really is believing.

2) Write about what you know.

If you're an expert in cake decorating, snowboarding, nail art or rare fungi then you know the quirky language and insider facts about your specialism that will really bring it alive in your reader's mind's eye. Whether it's bonking your board or burger flipping. Lambeth Method or over-piping. Stamping. Or hyphal knots. The simple and mundane for you can become a bright new world for your reader.

3) Turn comedian.

Stand-up comedians are experts in observing the everyday but highlighting it in such microscopic detail that we think – Oh my God! Yes, that's hysterical. E.g. "Garlic Bread?" By observing real people, and even watching observational comedians to see how they do it, you can tap into the collective consciousness and create authentic characters and scenarios.

4) Pierce your reader with your own memory punctums.

Like the Punctum described in Roland Barthes's book Camera Lucida on photographic theory, Punctum: 
the punctum of a photograph is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)
I'd like you to pierce your writing with personal oddities, juxtapositions and the unexpected. No matter how different we all are, we will respond with our own history and memories to others' personal experiences. Think back to your time in school or university etc – there will be funny or unusual instances that you have welded in your brain. What was the accidental odd element that kept it in your memory? What caught your eye today as you went to the shops? Pierce your writing with similar and they'll linger with your readers too.

5) Invent metaphors.

Common (cliched) metaphors, and similes, are easily overlooked – we hear them so often. So, create new and fresh metaphors (and similes) to hook your reader's attention. Common: as fit as a fiddle; as sharp as a tack. New: as fit as an Ironman triathlete; as sharp as a Gillette Venus Extra Smooth. Similarly try and avoid the most obvious descriptions such as heart raced, she froze etc. Break the expected.

6) Contrary characterisation.

Create vivid characters who don't fit outmoded stereotypes. With cultural appropriation in mind, respectfully ensure that your diverse characters are given the opportunities to be who they want to be. That way they're memorable for all the right reasons.

7) Use all the senses.

Don't just paint a picture. Arouse scents and aromas. Textures and touch. Bird song and syrupy sweetness.

8) Words create their own pictures and feelings.

Use onomatopoeic words. Read up on Wolfgang Köhler's Bouba/Kiki effect: our almost innate synaesthesia-like recognition of shapes in words. This is something I do all the time and will sift through my thesaurus until I find the word that conjures the picture and sensation I want the reader to experience. 
For example, lazy can become short, sharp, staccato and rebellious. Or languid can lead to long languid lunches, rolling on and on. This may sound a bit weird, but according to the Bouba/Kiki effect, many of us visualise these shapes in words without realising it. 

And so what if we have to use a thousand words! The novel as an artistic medium is truly unique. We hand our imaginings over to our reader and trust them to run with it in their mind. This is teamwork. Real viewer interaction. Together we build vast, expansive worlds that cinema, TV, VR and gaming can only dream of for the price. 
To vivid novelists!

Feature Image Credit: Pixabay

Zena McFadzean aka Xena Knox is a self-deprecating Scot living between the Scottish Borders and Crystal Palace, South London. She loves writing gritty, humorous YA novels and is represented by Jo Williamson at Antony Harwood Ltd. Twitter Instagram: @XenaKnox


Eleanor Pender is Knowhow Editor. If there's something you'd like to know how to do, send your suggestions to knowhow@britishscbwi.org.

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