Image Credit: Images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. Book cover images supplied by Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.
They say that a picture is a thousand words but don’t discount those words. For one thing, one thousand words is a flash fiction story! An artist paints with oils, watercolours etc., whereas a writer paints with words. And those words can make a powerful impact on readers.
By inventing characters readers can identify with, we can use those characters to convey deep truths in what we get them to say and how we get them to act. We can also use those characters as representations. Allegorical tales are the classical example of this.
Visualising Through Words
And we can use objects in stories to convey images too. Think about the Ring of Power in The Lord of the Rings. That one physical object represents evil throughout Tolkien’s masterpiece. You can picture that (even if you’ve never seen the films).
Objects in fiction can be filled with meaning then and they’re easy for us to imagine. Physical attributes can do this too. If I mentioned the word fangs, what images would come into your head? Vampires? Dogs (e.g. something like The Hound of the Baskervilles as opposed to a cute spaniel or collie!).
Now what we have seen on television and in film has an influence here but writers can take advantage of that for their stories in a way Conan Doyle could not. I do so for a lot of my flash fiction tales. If I mention London, I don’t have to describe it as Dickens did need to, as I’ve mentioned earlier in this series.
You’ve already got an idea of what London looks like. I can give a specific detail where I want to focus on a particular area (for example, I can mention the East End of London) and that will help any reader hone in on what I’m trying to draw their attention to – in this case the setting. But I am still putting images in their head, the images I want them to have in mind as they read my story.
You can also use time with images. If I set a story in Victorian London, that will create a different image in your head as opposed to a story set in modern London. (And I bet you see some fog in the Victorian London setting. It is always there! I suspect we may have Dickens to thank for that).
Flash Fiction, Imagery, and Specific Details
Due to the restricted word count in flash fiction (1000 words maximum), I can use imagery as a very useful short cut (and it saves on the word count). For example, if I want to show you poverty is the theme of my tale, how could I do this? Two examples are below and I use a lot of imagery in both.
The house has seen better days. Lichen is all around the window sills. The paintwork was last done in the year the Titanic sank by the looks of things. And she wears a red coat which is far from new – 40 words.
As it stands, the above is fine. There are some nice telling details like the lichen and the paintwork but I’m doing a lot of “telling” here. By using imagery effectively, I can “show” you instead. That helps improve the pace of a story and ensures no wasted words creep in.
The house looks as if was last done up in the year the Titanic sank. And she wears a moth-eaten red coat – 22 words.
Spot the difference! There is a significant reduction in the word count for one thing. But more importantly I am showing you the setting and the poverty. The one hyphenated word, moth-eaten, is the “killer” turning point here. And the imagery in your head should be much stronger than it would have been for the first version. I didn’t need those additional eighteen words after all.
Specific well chosen details can strengthen the imagery you’re trying to plant in your reader’s head then. It is the choosing of the most relevant ones that can be tricky. In my example here, the lichen imagery was fine. The moth-eaten coat is better. It is more precise. It is more personal too. Someone is wearing that coat and I hope I’ve piqued your interest to want to find out who the character is and why that coat is important.
If a specific detail is mentioned in a story, look out for it. The writer has put it there for a reason and as the story unfolds, that reason should become apparent. This is true for anything the writer seems to be drawing your attention towards.
Crime writers use it all the time – red herrings work! You can distract a reader by planting the wrong image in their heads, they have to read on to find out what happens, and only towards the end do they realise they focused on the wrong clue, picked the wrong person to be the murderer etc. I know if a writer has used a specific detail, I want to find out why they have done so and the only way is to keep on reading – job done there on the part of the writer!
The Role of Book Covers
Book covers are the first advert for any novel, collection etc and they need to draw readers in as quickly as possible. How often have you been in a book shop, picked out a book you like the look of, look at the blurb at the back because you like the look of the front cover, and then go on to buy it? Too often to count for me, I must say! It is a nice addiction to have…!
A book cover needs to reflect the mood and genre of the contents and it needs to fit in with what is expected from that genre. You’re not going to find a “fluffy” book cover for a Gothic novel! Imagery matters. Imagery can help sell the book. You don’t want a reader picking up a book, expecting one thing from its cover only to find it is something else entirely. Self published authors have to give this careful thought to ensure their books are seen to fit in.
For me, as an author with an indie press, I’ve been very fortunate in that I can have input into my book covers. Chapeltown Books have the standard frame for their book covers but I can and do choose what goes in the middle of that frame. For both From Light to Dark and Back Again and Tripping the Flash Fantastic, I’ve chosen pictures that reflect the mood and which I hope will intrigue a reader enough to want to find out more.
The vital point here is to choose images that are free to use for commercial purposes – I use Pixabay, Pexels etc. Book Brush’s images are all Pixabay ones. Always, always, always, check out that an image is free to use for commercial purposes. You don’t want to infringe copyright.
The Author and Social Media
Imagery comes in again here too. When I share blog posts about my books or do any other kind of marketing, as well as using my book covers, I create images (using the wonderful Book Brush graphic design program) to “back up” what I am sharing. I’m doing it for this post too! I want the images I pick to back up what I am saying here.
Another point with book covers is they have to look good as thumbnails, the kind of tiny image you see on Amazon and the like. A writer will want a nice clear image that shows their book well no matter what social media their book is advertised on.
So images matter for writers then whether they’re in the created work or in the marketing material for that created work. Images back up the words. And the words give ideas to the authors for the right images to advertise their stories. I used one of the images from a story in Tripping the Flash Fantastic to come up with ideas for what would work on the cover for that.
Writers also want readers to remember their stories and imagery helps a lot there. It is the characters you remember and you often recall them by what you associate with them. Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice is someone I will always associate with a certain type of bonnet! (Helped no end there by the TV adaptation!). Images matter. Words matter. And they support each other. I like that.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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