~ Take a Good Look ~
When we read, we create visual images in our heads. We picture the heroine’s dress. We see the house. We visualize the car speeding past. These visual images grow out of our own visual memory of things our eyes have seen.
In describing objects using the visual sense, it is the effect of light that is key. Any description that draws on the qualities of light or lack of it, are visual images. Without light, our visual sense ceases to work and becomes useless.
Writing Visual Images
Much of what we write in fiction relates to the visual sense. However, because writers rely on words rather than actual images, we need to be careful to describe fully. For example: What image do you see when you read this sentence?
“Sarah wore a dress.”
What you see and what I see may be totally different. The word dress instantly limits what we can imagine Sarah is wearing to the kind of dresses we have seen in the past. Based on our experiences and culture, we will conjure up a garment that perhaps has a skirt joined to a top and which covers the torso and some or all of the legs. It may or may not cover the arms. The fabric may be black or white or polka dot. But if we have never seen a dress, we will not be sure exactly what Sarah is wearing.
Adding Visual Description
As a writer, it is therefore important to be sure that our descriptions make sense to our intended readers. One way to do this is to add more visual description words, such as colors and shapes, and light and shadow effects. How does the sentence above change when more visual elements are added?
“Sarah wore a red satin dress.”
Now we have identified a color and a lighting effect. Colors like red are pure visual elements. Our eye is designed to differentiate between the waves length of light in the visible color spectrum. Satin is both a texture and a visual image. If we have touched satin before, we will imagine the smoothness of the fabric to our touch, but we also see the way the fabric catches and reflects light.
Using Visual Contrasts
However, without relevant experiences, this description is no more meaningful that the simple sentence above. The third thing the writer can do to help the reader is add a comparison or contrast to help the reader visualize the image.
“Sarah wore a dress as red as the setting sun.”
“The fabric of Sarah’s dress was as smooth and shiny as polished silver.”
Adding The Quality of Light and Shadow
Or another choice is to describe the actual light and shadow or write about the quality of the light and how it affects one’s view.
“The folds in Sarah’s dress created an interplay of light and dark reds as she moved.”
“The red of Sarah’s dress deepened to maroon as she moved into the shadow of the pines.”
“In the fog, Sarah’s dress was a mere smear of red in a sea of gray.”
Describing Shapes and Forms and Motions
Our eyes are also capable of recognizing shapes, seeing three-dimensional forms, and noticing movement. These can also be used to delineate an object or setting.
“Sarah’s square-necked red dress of lightweight satin floated around her legs as she moved.”
When to Add Visual Elements to Our Writing
Color, shape, form, movement, light, and shadow are rich sources of description to draw on in our writing. Add visual elements to –
- Describe a setting
- Describe a person’s skin, clothes, features
- Make an object more important
- Describe nature, natural objects, or the weather
- Add emotion
- Show a significant change in color, shape, or light that relates to mood or action
- Heighten romantic scenes.