Mario’s Tips on Writing IV: Imagery that Conveys Character and Setting

This is Part IV in a list of short writing tips from Mario Lowthar, the premier critiquer in my writing group and published short story author.  Here is the previous Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Lady Simma of the Red Hand -- Art by SYoshiko

Convey me!  Lady Simma of the Red Hand — Art by SYoshiko

Mario says:

Imagery is a necessity but I like the image also to convey character or setting. In one of your stories, you had a young man, might have been Evvern, bobbing his head up and down outside of Merreth’s door (I think) like a cork bobbing in water. Apt-enough image of how Evvern looked. But it compared him to a cork! For me it was a missed opportunity, because cork wasn’t relevant to his character or the setting. Because it was a character moment, I’d have preferred something to convey how he felt (i.e. ‘ducking and weaving at her door like a nervous shadow’) or what sort of person he was (i.e. ‘bobbing his head up and down like a servant begging deference’), both far more useful to the reader than how he looked. A story has only a few words. So paint pictures.

In ‘Cover Her Face’, P.D. James has a housekeeper describe a soon-to-be-murdered servant girl whom she doesn’t trust, but who hoodwinks everyone else, as ‘Tough as a nut and cunning as a wagon-load of monkeys.’ Why does James choose a nut, a wagon, and monkeys? Because a nut is hard and it keeps the inner seed from view. Monkeys are sometimes cute, but are more often sly, pilfering, shifty, staring, inquisitive, abruptly combative and not-quite-human beasts. A wagon, as opposed to a car or truck or boat, conveys the small English village in which the story occurs. So the reader gets a strong sense of protagonist, antagonist, and setting. Awesome, simply awesome.

There you have, it from Mario!

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