Writing to Capture the Imagination

A well-written story sparks the imaginations of readers. As they read, they see pictures and may even insert themselves into a visual moving world as the story unfolds. They become less aware of the words on the page, the grammar, or the long descriptions to set up scenes as the words guide their imaginations through the experiences of the characters in the journey.

The reader experiences the story by seeing and feeling it, rather than spending any time analyzing the narrative, or interpreting the author’s intentions. A story told in a purely narrative style is exactly the opposite. Narrative stories require the reader to relate to the story through the language and their analytic abilities for logic and reasoning will take over.

The key with any good story is to show the reader what you want them to see, rather than telling them what occurred as if reading the news. Showing engages the reader in the actions, reactions and dialogs of the characters in the story. Showing keeps the reader engaged in an experience, while telling has the reader engaged in the language. For example, “At the mere mention of the name, Jack bristled, shifted in his chair and sat bolt upright. Shuddering slightly, his lips drew tight, fighting off the rage before replying.” Compare that to, “Jack did not like the name being mention. He replied…”

As you write about actions and situations in your story, have the characters react to them and to other people in their dialog. The characters should react to the settings in the scene as well, which may be hot, cold, wet or windy. For example, “Jack’s skin crawled in the icy draft wafting from the blackness of the crypt.” This conveys that Jack felt the cold, but it also conveys fear and the setting is quite creepy. In narrative style, it might have read as follows, “Jack felt a cool breeze emanating from the crypt.” The reader’s imagination will cause them to feel the chill and some nervousness in the first version, but most likely not in the second.

Establish some predictable behaviors so that as the character encounters new circumstances, the reader can visualize the character’s reaction before reaching the end of the description. As you develop the character and his/her background, include some aspects that are likes and dis-likes related to circumstances or people. As the character encounters the circumstance or type of person later on, the reader’s imagination will instantly anticipate the reaction that matches.

Let your own perspectives and attitudes come through in the behavior of the characters. Negative or controversial attitudes and feelings work just as well as constructive and helpful ones. If your characters reflect your own attitudes and feelings, they will seem that much more authentic. How would you respond to the specific actions, circumstances or people about which you are writing? Let your imagination drive your writing and your readers will be inspired to go along for the ride. Write on.