The Necessity of Poetic Imagery

Words Alone Aren’t Always Enough

Photo by Nick Brookenheimer on Unsplash

My two favorite ways to draw a reader in are descriptive narrative and poetic imagery. My favorite books are the ones that braid the two together with such smooth precision that as a reader, I receive both the perceived narrative and the felt experience of the author. This writing talent is remarkable when an author combines the two in a fictional account, but it can often be more profoundly felt with memoir because the depth of the author’s experience lends richness to the poetry of the text.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, readers don’t have time for poetic language. They often become confused trying to sort out the meaning of metaphoric language and dislike passages that don’t advance the plot. Therefore, publishers of fiction (and often memoir) will chop a book nearly clear of flowing tangents of poetic imagery.

Using collegiate language is also frowned upon in fiction writing, with readers preferring narratives that don’t require a dictionary. But using a more precise word increases the power of semantics, and using a more poetic word enhances the value of imagery.

Consider the following three passages to describe a moment in my novel-in-progress.

  1. A bare narrative, a synoptic summary, telling without showing.

Stella did not want to think about the past.

2. A descriptive narrative in pure form, showing the action as if on a movie screen.

Stella’s heart rate increased and her palms became sweaty. She worked feverishly to distract herself, changing the subject before the others knew what had happened.

3. A pure poem without narrative, no connection to a plot, an emotional experience that is almost universally relatable. (This excerpt is from Pandora’s Box, I highly recommend reading the poem in its entirety.)

The infinite powers of the mind fashioned a box…

Time and time again,
She touched the box
And recoiled in horror.
Each time she touched it,
It seared her skin.
And the scabs that fell off
Were woven into the tapestry…

But the box remained.
The horrors it contained too great to release.
Pandora’s box.

Photo by Lena De Fanti on Unsplash

And now, imagine a way to combine the three. The options are limitless. Can you see how none of the passages completes the picture? That the combination of the three would create a richer experience for the reader?

Descriptive words alone, even accurate identification of thoughts, are not sufficient to capture the depth of emotional experiencing. Imagery and metaphor, however, can help us peek behind the mysterious curtain and draw us into a character experience unlike any other.

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Anne Springer

Anne Springer

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I’m a speculative fiction and poetry writer, a curious soul who never grows tired of asking “Why” and “What if?” Look up AuthorAnneSpringer on Facebook!