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Imagery…In the Mind of the Reader

“…imagery does not occur on the writer’s page; it occurs in the reader’s mind.” –Stephen King

King brings up this interesting and very salient point in a fabulous article on imagery that I happened to stumble over (did I mention I’ve gotten addicted to my StumbleUpon toolbar?) last week.  I was saving my thoughts on the subject for today so that I had something interesting to post after a most uninteresting (though relaxing) weekend.

Imagery occurs in the reader’s mind.  Well Mr. King I think you have hit upon the reason I rarely like book to movie translations of anything–it’s never like I saw it in my head.  I used to see this as a deficiency in the producers, directors, and casting folks of the flicks themselves, but perhaps that isn’t it (except in cases where they just flat change the story…that’s not kosher with me).  I (and everyone else who reads) form my own opinions and pictures of the characters and the locations of a story.  But it really never crossed my mind to think of it in such away–that my brain is taking the details the author put on the page and filling in the gaps with my own imagination and experience as a reader.

I’m a big detail person.  Writing friends have heard me say that “If the table my hero is sitting at is rough, I want to know what it feels like beneath his hand.”  This is probably overkill unless the fact that the table is rough contributes to the plot or the hero’s characterization.  But anyway I’m a big one for including lots of details–although now that I say that, I know that often I’m guilty of leaving them out because it’s clear in my own head…anyway, I do tend to enjoy books with more detail rather than less.

Well Mr. King goes on to say “But the idea of imagery is not to set the picture by giving everything (that is for photographers, not writers), but to give enough to suggest a texture and a feel.”

Ah ha!  Guidelines!  I like those.  I can describe something in full then prune it back to only the most essential–the things that stick out as the most important to give that texture or feel rather than allowing the brambles of my imagination to become overgrown and take you out of the story like some thorny, overbearing Aubrey II (okay please tell me you got the Little Shop of Horrors reference…).  I tend to fall back on details when I get stuck…I’ll immerse myself into the location or start adding in details in an effort to liven up the scene but really I usually only end up killing it (not always…sometimes it really livens things up).  The point is knowing when to quit (same with chocolate).  Opening the proverbial third eye and really seeing and absorbing the important stuff.  King has an exercise at the end of his article–it’s illuminating.  Go try it.  I need to go get my loppers.

One thought on “Imagery…In the Mind of the Reader

  1. I enjoyed the article too, and blessed him during the reading, because too much description, especially of things that don’t really matter to the story, bores the crap out of me. While reading, I haven’t really figured out what the difference is between writing I enjoy, where I feel the picture is vivid and I feel very much in the scene, and writing that seems like a whole lot of slogging.

    I don’t think the translation to movies is the same for me. I rarely dislike new takes on things. You know I love re-tellings of classic stories, covers of familiar songs (as long as the artist makes it her own and it’s not just her voice singing the exact same song in the exact same way–take that Randy Jackson), etc. So I don’t mind seeing things not the way I saw them in my head. What I dislike about them are usually matters of stressing things I didn’t see as important, changing things I liked to suit the movie (like making the curmudgeony characters from Angels Fall far less curmudgeony), cutting things I thought were important to the story, and putting in new things or using parts that didn’t really contribute. The difference in “vision”, between me and the movie people, isn’t really about imagery. I think a lot of the time it’s trying to take a book, and for me the best of those are character-driven, and trying to condense it into something that is primarily plot-driven and missing a lot of the point.

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