Imagery is the heart of storytelling. In my creative writing class, we begin the semester-long class with an exercise that helps students find the right words to convey to their readers the sensory details that bring the story alive. Eventually students learn that imagery is twofold. First, it describes using sensory language, and second, it evokes strong feelings in the reader.
Every assignment features a different aspect of writing, but imagery is always at the core of writing. Without it, writing would be dull or lifeless. The first exercise I use to teach imagery begins with a Google slide show featuring three interesting pictures from various news sources. I use three pictures in particular. The first shows firefighters battling a burning building. Another is a festival with people eating and dancing. The third picture portrays a beautiful wild animal in its natural habitat. For each slide, students create an imagery chart that has five columns for the five senses. Students imagine that the pictures are part of a future short story they will write. They list sensory detail words that describe the picture. Once they have filled their charts with descriptive words that depict the picture, they arrive at the key word that sums up what they want the reader to feel when imagining that scene and character.
One of my students’ favorite assignments is the Suspenseful Exposition. Students are given the choice of several settings. A slide show offers them the choice of an old, abandoned barn on a dreary winter day, a deserted wooden dock, or a dilapidated Victorian house. While it’s obvious to describe what the setting looks like, I encourage students to also describe the sounds that the character hears: the crunch of the snow, the creaking of the wooden floor, or the eerie night sounds of birds. The students describe the setting in two paragraphs and stop right at the point where the reader wants to shout out, “Don’t open that door!” or “Don’t look behind you!”
Images as Invitation
Searching for just the right image to reflect a piece of writing is one of my students’ favorite parts of publishing. Before they post their writing, students gradually work through the writing process. Each stage brings a different kind of enthusiasm. By the fifth stage, they are excited to publish on the class blog. As students prepare to publish, they identify an Internet image for the header of their blog post. This image serves as an invitation to classmates to read their poem or short story.
Most of our posts fall in the category of narratives or poetry. Students realize the importance of the picture header they chose. The perfect picture can create interest in their writing. For example, the exposition to a suspenseful story that focuses on the imagery of an old, abandoned barn can be enhanced with a black and white picture of an old, weathered barn on a dreary, winter day. Ultimately, student writers and student readers know that we do judge a book by its cover. Selecting the best image for the blog header invites the audience to read the post and discover the story waiting to unfold.