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Why do Authors Use Imagery?

Authors use imagery to do what Charlotte Perkins Gilman does in “The Yellow Paper”: to create rich, livable experiences using only the senses.

Think of imagery as a doorway into the world of the text. It allows the reader to see, smell, hear, taste, and feel everything that happens in the story.

Moreover, this device highlights the most important sensory descriptions. Consider where you are right now, as you’re reading this article. There are many different sensory experiences vying for your attention, but your brain filters those senses out because they’re not important. You might be ignoring the sounds of your neighbors and passing street cars, or the taste of a meal you just had, or the feeling of your chair pressing into your body.

Imagery in literature performs the same function: it highlights the most important sensory information that the reader needs to step inside the story. Great imagery examples set the stage for great storytelling , goading the reader into the world of the work.

For a more in-depth answer on “why do authors use imagery?”, check out our article on Show, Don’t Tell Writing .

What is imagery in poetry? Is it any different than in prose?

While this device is the same for both poetry and prose, you might notice that imagery in poetry is more economic—it relies on fewer words. Take the following excerpt from Louise Glück’s poem October :

“Daybreak. The low hills shine

ochre and fire, even the fields shine.

I know what I see; sun that could be

the August sun, returning

everything that was taken away —”

The imagery in this excerpt is stunning, particularly “the low hills shine ochre and fire.” The reader can imagine a roiling green landscape tinged like a flame in the early sunrise, contributing to the speaker’s sense of hope that one often feels at the start of a new day.

In poetry, as in prose, images are often juxtaposed next to feelings, creating a sensory and emotive experience. The language that each form uses to create those experiences is similar, but the poetic form encourages an economy of language, making imagery in poetry more concise .

5 Types of Imagery

Corresponding with the 5 senses, there are 5 types of imagery at a writer’s disposal. (Actually, there’s 7—but we’ll handle those last two separately.)

Every writer should have all 5 types of imagery in their toolkit. To create a rich, believable experience for the reader, appealing to each of the reader’s senses helps transport them into the world of the story. No, you shouldn’t focus on all 5 senses at the same time—in real life, nobody can pay attention to all of their senses at once. But, you should be able to use all 5 types of imagery when your writing calls for it.

Let’s look at each type and some more imagery examples.

1. Visual Imagery Definition

Visual imagery is description that stimulates the eyes. Specifically, your mind’s eye: when you can visualize the colors, shapes, forms, and aesthetics of something that’s described to you, the writer is employing visual imagery.

When you can visualize the colors, shapes, forms, and aesthetics of something that’s described to you, the writer is employing visual imagery.

This is the most common form of imagery in literature, as the writer relies on visual description to create a setting, describe characters, and show action. Without visual imagery, it is much harder to employ the other types of imagery (though writers have certainly done this in the event that a character is blind or blinded).

Visual Imagery Examples

In each example, the visual imagery has been bolded.

“ A field of cotton —

as if the moon 

had flowered .”

—Matsuo Bashō, from Basho: The Complete Haiku , translated by Jane Reichhold.

“While talking to my mother I neaten things. Spines of books by the phone.

in a china dish. Fragments of eraser that dot the desk . She speaks

of death. I begin tilting all the paperclips in the other direction .”

—Anne Carson, from “ Lines ” in Decreation.

2. Auditory Imagery Definition

Auditory imagery is description that stimulates the ears. When you can hear the sounds of nature, machinery, or someone’s voice, it’s because of the description employed in the author’s auditory imagery.

When you can hear sounds like nature, machinery, or someone’s voice, it’s because of the description employed in the author’s auditory imagery.

Do note that, while you might be able to hear dialogue in your head, dialogue alone doesn’t count as auditory imagery. The sounds need to be described using adjectives, adverbs, and especially comparisons to other images.

Auditory Imagery Examples

In each example, the auditory imagery has been bolded.

“Few believe we’re in the middle of the end

because ruin can happen as slowly as plaque

blocking arteries, and only later feels as true

as your hand resting on my hip, both of us

quiet as roses waiting for the bees to arrive. ”

—Julie Danho, excerpt from “I Want to Eat Bugs With You Underground” in Bennington Review .

“Our ears are stoppered

in the bee-hum . And Charlie,

laughing wonderfully ,

beard stained purple

by the word juice ,

goes to get a bigger pot.”

—Robert Hass, excerpt from “Picking Blackberries with a Friend Who Has Been Reading Jacques Lacan” in Praise.

3. Tactile Imagery Definition

Tactile imagery is description that stimulates your sense of touch. Sensations like itching, stickiness, and the warmth of sunlight all count as tactile imagery, which appeals to the way your skin might feel in that moment.

Sensations like itching, stickiness, and the warmth of sunlight all count as tactile imagery, which appeals to the way your skin might feel in that moment.

Tactile experiences only refer to external sensations, primarily on the skin. When a writer describes internal sensations, they’re using organic imagery, which we’ll define later in this article.

Tactile Imagery Examples

In each example, the tactile imagery has been bolded.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, excerpt from Journal of My Other Self.

“Are All the Break-Ups in Your Poems Real?

If by real you mean as real as a shark tooth stuck

in your heel , the wetness of a finished lollipop stick ,

the surprise of a thumbtack in your purse —

then Yes, every last page is true, every nuance,

bit, and bite .”

—Aimee Nezhukumatathil, excerpt from “Are All the Break-Ups in Your Poems Real?” in Poetry Foundation .

4. Olfactory Imagery Definition

Olfactory imagery is description that stimulates the nose. By describing the peculiarities of a scent—its richness, pungence, weight, distinctness, or physical effect—the author transports the reader through the use of olfactory imagery.

By describing the peculiarities of a scent—its richness, pungence, weight, distinctness, or physical effect—the author transports the reader through the use of olfactory imagery.

Olfactory looks like a strange word, but it comes from the Latin for “to smell,” and we have an olfactory bulb in our brains which processes smells. Fun fact: the olfactory bulb is situated just in front of the hippocampus, which processes memory. As a result, smells often stimulate stronger memories than the other senses, so you can use olfactory imagery to arouse both smell and memory.

Olfactory Imagery Examples

In each example, the olfactory imagery has been bolded.

—Patricia Hampl, excerpt from The Florist’s Daughter.

“Why is it that the poets tell

So little of the sense of smell?

These are the odors I love well:

The smell of coffee freshly ground;

Or rich plum pudding, holly crowned;

Or onions fried and deeply browned. ”

—Christopher Morley, excerpt from “ Smells ”.

5. Gustatory Imagery Definition

Gustatory imagery is description that stimulates the tongue. If you’ve ever done a wine or coffee tasting, you know exactly how complex a flavor can be. Gustatory imagery captures a flavor’s richness, acidity, earthiness, sweetness, bitterness, harshness, etc.

Gustatory imagery captures a flavor’s richness, acidity, earthiness, sweetness, bitterness, harshness, etc.

This is perhaps the rarest of the 5 types of imagery, as authors don’t seem to dwell on tastes too much, but gustatory imagery can absolutely throw the reader into different cultures, cuisines, and histories.

Gustatory Imagery Examples

In each example, the gustatory imagery has been bolded.

—E.M. Forster, excerpt from A Room With a View.

“I have eaten

that were in

you were probably

for breakfast

they were delicious

and so cold .”

—William Carlos Williams, “ This Is Just To Say ”.

Writers have another 2 types of imagery at their disposal: kinesthetic imagery and organic imagery. We include these as separate types of imagery because they describe senses that are more abstract than the other 5.

Kinesthetic Imagery Definition

Kinesthetic imagery, also called kinesthesia, refers to descriptions of motion. The sensations one feels when on the move, like running against the wind or swimming through brisk waters, are examples of kinesthetic imagery.

The sensations one feels when on the move, like running against the wind or swimming through brisk waters, are examples of kinesthetic imagery.

Kinesthesia might seem similar to tactile imagery, but the difference is that kinesthesia always describes movement. So, a bee sting is tactile, but a bee whizzing past your arm is kinesthetic; the coldness of a wall is tactile, but the feeling of a cold wall moving against you is kinesthetic.

Kinesthetic Imagery Examples

—Charles Dickens, excerpt from A Tale of Two Cities.

—Brit Bennett, excerpt from The Mothers .

Organic Imagery Definition

Organic imagery refers to descriptions of internal sensation. When the writer uses concrete description to show an internal landscape of feelings, pains, emotions, and desires, they’re using organic imagery.

When the writer uses concrete description to show an internal landscape of feelings, pains, emotions, and desires, they’re using organic imagery.

Organic imagery can be physical, like stomach pain or a headache, but it can also be emotional: the feeling of your heart dropping into your gut, or the burn of jealousy in your temples.

Organic Imagery Examples

—S. K. Osborn, excerpt from There’s A Lot of Good Reasons to Go Out West .

“So was I once myself a swinger of birches.

And so I dream of going back to be.

It’s when I’m weary of considerations,

And life is too much like a pathless wood. ”

—Robert Frost, excerpt from “ Birches ”.

The importance of descriptive, concrete imagery to creative writing cannot be understated. To master this literary device, try your hand at the following 5 writing exercises.

1. Show, Don’t Tell

“Show, don’t tell” writing is writing that uses concrete details to transmit an experience to the reader, rather than asserting the experience itself. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, you can learn about it (and find many more imagery examples) at this article .

Here’s an example of showing instead of telling:

In this exercise, rewrite the following phrases into complete “show, don’t tell” statements. The below sentences are “telling” sentences where the writer is chewing the reader’s food—asserting an experience without relying on the senses.

“Telling” statements:

The development of precise images is essential to great poetry, storytelling, and “show, don’t tell” writing. While poetry writing can linger in description, story writing is best kept to action. This checklist from Writer’s Digest does a great job of explaining how to make this device action-focused.

2. Look At This Photograph

Find an interesting photograph. It can be a physical photo, it can sit somewhere in your camera roll, it can be a classical painting, or you can simply look for something unique on a site like Unsplash .

Now, describe that photograph using the different types of imagery— except for visual imagery. Try to convey the experience of the photograph without showing the reader what it actually looks like. The challenge of describing something visual without relying on visual images will help you sharpen your descriptive writing.

Here’s an example, using this landscape painting by John Wootton:

imagery writing exercise john wootton landscape painting

When you have an example for each non-visual image, try to combine them into a singular effective description of the photograph.

Do all of these imagery examples make sense? Do they even come close to describing the painting? Absolutely not. But just the attempt at describing a landscape painting through taste or touch helps juice your creativity, and you might stumble upon some really beautiful writing in the process.

If you enjoyed this exercise, you might be interested in the Ekphrastic Poetry Challenge at Rattle .

3. Think Abstractly

Great imagery relies on the use of great concrete words, particularly nouns and verbs (though some adjectives, too). The opposite of a concrete word is an abstract word: a word which describes an idea, not an image.

Examples of abstract words are “satisfaction,” “mercantilism,” “love,” “envy,” “disgust,” and “bureaucracy.” None of those words have concrete images: they might have symbols (like “heart” for “love”), but no single image defines any of those words.

For this exercise, generate a list of abstract words. If you’re struggling to come up with good words, you can use a list of abstractions like this one . Once you’ve settled on a good list, select a word that particularly excites you.

Use this abstract word as the title of a poem or story. Now, write that poem or story, using concrete description to show the reader exactly how that abstraction feels and looks. Do not use the abstract word, or any synonyms or antonyms, in your writing—try to avoid abstractions altogether.

At the end of your exercise, you might end with a poem like “Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley .

4. Synesthesia

Synesthesia is a literary device in which the writer uses more than one sense to describe something. For example, we often use the phrase “cool colors” for blues and greens, and “warm colors” for reds and oranges. “Cool” and “warm” are tactile, and since a color itself cannot be warm or cold, we’re able to represent the color through synesthesia.

Synesthesia is also a rare psychological condition, in which a person involuntarily experiences something in multiple senses. For example, someone with synesthesia might say that the number 12 is reddish-orange, or that the sound of a guitar tastes like rain.

For this exercise, describe the following items using synesthesia. Describe sounds using colors or tastes, describe smells using memories or movements. Get creative! You don’t need to have synesthesia to write synesthesia, just try to break free from the conventional use of the different types of imagery.

Describe the following using synesthesia:

For example, I might write that the letter J is the color of a forest at dusk, blue-green and pregnant with night.

Does that make sense to anyone else but me? Probably not! But that’s the point: be creative, be weird, be synesthetic.

5. Use Only Metaphors and Similes

For this exercise, you are free to describe whatever you would like. Describe an inanimate object, a food you enjoy, your pet, your archnemesis, the wind, the sea, the sun, or really anything you want to write about.

Whatever you choose, you must only describe that object using metaphors and similes . For a primer on these two literary devices, check out our article Simile Vs Metaphor Vs Analogy .

Do not use adjectives or adverbs, and only use nouns in comparison with your object.

Try to generate a list of metaphors and similes. For example, if your object is a rubber ball, you can say it “moves like a sparrow,” “bounces like children on trampolines,” and “waits to be noticed, a planet in hiding.”

Try to write for 15-20 minutes, and if you’ve generated a long enough list, you might even consider organizing your metaphors and similes into a poem or flash story. As with our other exercises, use compelling imagery, and show us something new about your object!

Transport Your Readers at Writers.com

Why do authors use imagery? To transport their readers to new and believable worlds. To learn more about imagery and practice it in your writing, take a look at the upcoming courses at Writers.com .

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relationship between creative writing and types of imagery

Imagery Definition

What is imagery? Here’s a quick and simple definition:

Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After Apple-Picking" contain imagery that engages the senses of touch, movement, and hearing: "I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend. / And I keep hearing from the cellar bin / The rumbling sound / Of load on load of apples coming in."

Some additional key details about imagery:

Imagery Pronunciation

Here's how to pronounce imagery: im -ij-ree

Types of Imagery

There are five main types of imagery, each related to one of the human senses:

Some people may also argue that imagery can be kinesthetic (related to movement) or organic (related to sensations within the body). Writers may focus descriptions in a particular passage on primarily one type of imagery, or multiple types of imagery.

Imagery and Figurative Language

Many people (and websites) confuse the relationship between imagery and figurative language. Usually this confusion involves one of two things:

Both are wrong.

A Quick Definition of Figurative Language

Figurative language is language that creates a meaning that is different from the literal interpretation of the words. For instance, the phrase "you are my sunshine" is figurative language (a metaphor , to be precise). It's not literally saying that you are a beam of light from the sun, but rather is creating an association between "you" and "sunshine" to say that you make the speaker feel warm and happy and also give the speaker life in the same way sunshine does.

Imagery can be Literal or Figurative

Imagery is neither a type of figurative language nor does it solely involve the use of figurative language to create descriptions for one simple reason: imagery can be totally literal. Take the lines from Robert Frost's "After-Apple Picking:"

I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend. And I keep hearing from the cellar bin The rumbling sound Of load on load of apples coming in.

These lines contain powerful imagery: you can feel the swaying ladder, see the bending boughs, and hear the rumbling of the apples going into the cellar bin. But it is also completely literal: every word means exactly what it typically means. So this imagery involves no figurative language at all.

Now, that doesn't mean imagery can't use figurative language. It can! You could write, for instance, "The apples rumbled into the cellar bin like a stampede of buffalo," using a simile to create a non-literal comparison that emphasizes just how loudly those apples were rumbling. To sum up, then: imagery can involve the use of figurative language, but it doesn't have to.

Imagery Examples

Imagery is found in all sorts of writing, from fiction to non-fiction to poetry to drama to essays.

Example of Imagery in Romeo and Juliet

In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet , Romeo describes his first sight of Juliet with rich visual imagery:

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright! Her beauty hangs upon the cheek of night, Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear

This imagery does involve the use of figurative language, as Romeo describes Juliet's beauty in the nighttime by using a simile that compares her to a jewel shining against dark skin.

Example of Imagery in "Birches"

In the early lines of his poem "Birches," Robert Frost describes the birches that give his poem it's title. The language he uses in the description involves imagery of sight, movement, and sound.

When I see birches bend to left and right Across the lines of straighter darker trees, I like to think some boy's been swinging them. But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning After a rain. They click upon themselves As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.

Example of Imagery in The Road

The novelist Cormac McCarthy is known, among other things, for his powerful imagery. In this passage from his novel The Road , note how he uses imagery to describe the fire on the distant ridge, the feel of the air, and even the feeling inside that the man experiences.

A forest fire was making its way along the tinderbox ridges above them, flaring and shimmering against the overcast like the northern lights. Cold as it was he stood there a long time. The color of it moved something in him long forgotten.

Example of Imagery in Moby-Dick

The passage ago appears at the very end of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick and describes the ocean in the moments after a destroyed ship has sunk into it. Notice how Melville combines visual, auditory, and kinesthetic imagery ("small fowls flew"; "white surf beat"), and how the imagery allows you to almost feel the vortex created by the sinking ship and then the silence left behind when it closes.

Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.

Example of Imagery in Song of Solomon

In this passage from Song of Solomon , Toni Morrison uses visual imagery to capture the color and motion of the table cloth as it settles over the table. She also uses figurative language ("like a lighthouse keeper...") to describe the way that Ruth in the passage looks at the water stain on the table. The figurative language doesn't just describe the color or sound or smell of the scene, it captures the obsessive way that Ruth glances at the water stain, and the way that seeing it gives her a sense of ease. Here the figurative language deepens the imagery of the scene.

As she unfolded the white linen and let it billow over the fine mahogany table, she would look once more at the large water mark. She never set the table or passed through the dining room without looking at it. Like a lighthouse keeper drawn to his window to gaze once again at the sea, or a prisoner automatically searching out the sun as he steps into the yard for his hour of exercise, Ruth looked for the water mark several times during the day.

Example of Imagery in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

The main character of Patrick Suskind's novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer has a supernaturally powerful sense of smell. In this passage, which describes the smells of an 18th century city, the narrator captures the nature of 18th century cities—their grittiness and griminess—through the smell of their refuse, and how in such a world perfume might be not just a luxury but a necessity. Further, he makes readers aware of a world of smell of which they normally are only slightly aware, and how a super-sensitive sense of smell could both be powerful but also be overwhelmingly unpleasant. And finally, through smell the narrator is able to describe just how gross humans can be, how they are in some ways just another kind of animal, and how their bodies are always failing or dying. Through descriptions of smell, in other words, the novel also describes an overlooked aspect of the human condition.

In the period of which we speak, there reigned in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women. The streets stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the stairwells stank of moldering wood and rat droppings, the kitchens of spoiled cabbage and mutton fat; the unaired parlors stank of stale dust, the bedrooms of greasy sheets, damp featherbeds, and the pungently sweet aroma of chamber pots. The stench of sulfur rose from the chimneys, the stench of caustic lyes from the tanneries, and from the slaughterhouses came the stench of congealed blood. People stank of sweat and unwashed clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth, from their bellies that of onions, and from their bodies, if they were no longer very young, came the stench of rancid cheese and sour milk and tumorous disease.

Why Do Writers Use Imagery?

Imagery is essential to nearly every form of writing, and writers use imagery for a wide variety of reasons:

Other Helpful Imagery Resources

The printed PDF version of the LitCharts literary term guide on Imagery

The LitCharts.com logo.


Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, what is imagery a complete guide.

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General Education


A literary device is a technique a writer uses to convey ideas and messages to their readers. That means that as readers, we need to understand and use literary devices to fully understand a work’s major themes!

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at how to use imagery to analyze a text. We’ll start by giving you the imagery definition before talking about why it’s an important tool for analyzing a text. Then we’ll walk you through some imagery examples in poetry and fiction and show you exactly how to analyze the imagery in each.

By the end of this article, you’ll be able to talk about imagery in literature like a pro, so let’s get started.


What Is Imagery? Definition and Explanation

Have you ever read a book that makes you feel like you’re seeing, feeling, smelling, or tasting the same thing as the character you’re reading about? (We had that experience the first time Harry Potter tries butterbeer in Hogsmeade .) If you have, you can thank imagery for that experience!

Imagery is the act of using language to create images in the reader’s mind . Writers use descriptive words and phrases to help the reader feel like they’re...well, wherever the writer wants them to be! Basically, the writer is trying to create a “mental image” for the reader through the words they choose. Here’s how one of the greatest horror writers of all time, Stephen King , describes imagery :

Imagery does not occur on the writer’s page; it occurs in the reader’s mind. To describe everything is to supply a photograph in words; to indicate the points which seem the most vivid and important to you, the writer, is to allow the reader to flesh out your sketch into a portrait.

In other words: you can think of imagery as painting with words in order to fuel the reader’s imagination!

An easy way to spot imagery in a text is to pay attention to words, phrases, and sentences that connect with your five senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound). That’s because writers know that in order to capture a reader’s attention, they need to engage with them mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Since imagery is designed to connect a reader to a text, it’s one of the most powerful tools a writer has to communicate their themes and messages.


The 2 Types of Imagery

Any time a writer engages a reader’s senses, they’re using imagery...which means imagery is a really broad literary device. In general, however , imagery fits into two big categories: literal and figurative.

Literal Imagery: Examples and Explanation

With literal imagery, a writer is literally describing things to the reader. (Pretty straightforward, huh?)

Writers often use literal imagery to describe the setting, characters, and situation for a reader. Literal imagery helps the reader picture where characters are, understand what characters are doing, and even foreshadow what might happen next. (For example, if the character is in a dark, dirty alley, they’re probably in a more dangerous situation than if the character is skipping through a field of daisies.)

Let’s take a look at an example of literal imagery from Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park so you can see what we mean. In this scene, Dr. Alan Grant, Lex Murphy, and Tim Murphy are trying to hide from a tyrannosaurus rex:

The tyrannosaur was still looking downstream, its back turned to them. They hurried along the path to the waterfall, and had almost moved behind the sheet of falling water when Grant saw the tyrannosaur turn. Then they were completely behind the waterfall, and Grant was unable to see out through the silver sheet.

Now that you’ve read this passage, close your eyes and picture the scene. You’re probably picturing a giant waterfall, a hungry tyrannosaurus rex, and a lot of danger, right? That’s because the literal imagery in this passage paints a very specific, literal picture that helps you imagine what’s happening in this moment!

Magic, right? Not quite. Imagery works because the writer uses descriptive words and phrases to help paint a picture. Let’s take a look at the first few lines again and pick out some of the descriptive language that helps shape the scene:  

They were closer to the waterfall now, the roar much louder. The rocks became slippery, the path muddy. There was a constant hanging mist. It was like moving through a cloud.

These lines are almost exclusively description, and Crichton uses phrases like “rocks became slippery” and “constant hanging mist” to help you imagine exactly what’s happening. A good way to pick out literal imagery is to look for nouns, then see how they’re described. For example, the noun “waterfall” is described as having a “roar” that gets “louder” the closer the characters get!

From an analysis perspective, these literal images all work together to help build the mood , or tone , of the scene. In this case, the imagery of the scene contributes to its tense and suspenseful tone. The environment is treacherous--not only are the rocks slick, but the characters have trouble seeing through the mist and water. One false move, and they’ll be a tasty snack for a hungry dinosaur!


  Use this picture as inspiration for finding connotation! (This will all make sense in a second.)

Figurative Imagery: Examples and Explanation  

Unlike literal imagery, figurative imagery uses on the non-literal--or metaphorical--meaning of words to paint a picture for the reader. Almost all words have two meanings: their denotation and connotation. The denotation of a word is its literal, dictionary definition. Figurative imagery, on the other hand, relies on the connotation —or implied meaning—of words and phrases to help shape a text’s themes and ideas.

To see how figurative imagery works, let’s look at the first line of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130,” where the speaker is describing his lady love:  

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

Okay. Let’s zero in on the word “sun” here. According to Merriam-Webster, the literal definition of the word “sun” is “the luminous celestial body around which the earth and other planets revolve, from which they receive heat and light, which is composed mainly of hydrogen and helium.” But the speaker doesn’t literally mean that his mistress’ eyes aren’t like a ball of gas!

So what does he mean? To figure this out, let’s look at the figurative imagery here. Take a minute and think of some of the implied or metaphorical meanings of the word “sun.” The word might make you think of warmth and happiness. It also might make you think of other images like burning, blazing, or fiery brightness.

With this figurative imagery in mind, this line is better read as “my mistress’s eyes aren’t bright, warm, or happy.” Not only does figurative imagery help this line make more sense, it also clues readers into the message of the poem: that you can recognize someone’s faults and still love them and find them beautiful.

One more quick note: because you’re a savvy reader , you’ve probably realized that this line from Shakespeare is also a metaphor , which is a comparison between two seemingly unrelated objects (in this case, “eyes” and “sun”). Writers often use other literary devices like metaphor, simile, and personification to help create vivid imagery for the reader. So don’t be surprised if you see imagery overlapping with other literary techniques!

Can an Example of Imagery be Both Literal and Figurative at the Same Time?

Absolutely! In fact, it’s quite common to see writers use literal and figurative imagery simultaneously. Take the first stanza of William Wordsworth’s poem, “Daffodils” :

That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

This stanza combines literal and figurative imagery. Literally, the images in this stanza help us see the speaker wandering around alone until he stumbles upon a patch of daffodils that are growing by a lake. This imagery is important to understanding Wordsworth’s poetry, which often explores the relationship between nature and man.  

The figurative imagery helps us learn a little more about the speaker, who’s an outsider. We can infer this because of the imagery he gives us; he imagines himself as a cloud floating over everything, able to see what’s going on but unable to participate. The daffodils, on the other hand, represent society. The imagery here is happy (the daffodils are “golden” and “dancing”), which is how the speaker views society as someone on the outside looking in.


 Imagery in Poetry: “Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson

Now that you know more about imagery, let’s look at a poem that uses imagery to portray its major themes:

That perches in the soul - And sings the tune without the words - And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard - And sore must be the storm - That could abash the little Bird That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land - And on the strangest Sea - Yet - never - in Extremity, It asked a crumb - of me.

Imagery can make something abstract, like an emotion or theory, seem more concrete and tangible to the reader. By using imagery, writers can evoke the feeling they want to talk about in their readers...and by making their readers feel, writers can also help readers connect to the messages in their work.

In this example, Emily Dickinson takes the abstract idea of “hope” and compares it to a bird. Dickinson paints images of hope doing all the same things a bird does: it “perches,” “sings,” and keeps “so many warm” with its feathers. And despite all these gifts, hope never “asked a crumb” of anything in return. By using imagery to take an abstract idea (hope) and make it concrete (a bird), Dickinson helps readers understand the nature of hope. For Dickinson, hope is something that costs little to have and yet offers us comfort in all of life’s toughest situations.


Imagery in Fiction: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Imagery can be an equally powerful tool for fiction writers, too. In Dracula, Bram Stoker uses imagery to drive home the horror of the novel. Let’s take a look at one particularly stand-out scene, where Arthur Holmwood has to kill his former fiancee, Lucy Westenra, who has been turned into a vampire:

Remember how we talked about how imagery can set a tone or mood? That’s certainly the case here. Lucy is visually described not as a woman but as a “thing,” and the “blood-curdling screech” she lets out is a great example of how auditory imagery--or the sound of a scene--can contribute to its overall effect. (In this case, it amps up the horror of a once-delicate Englishwoman being transformed into a bloodthirsty beast.) It's the imagery associated with Lucy that shows readers how vicious and animalistic she’s become, which is no surprise: she’s joined Dracula’s army of the undead.

Now, take a look at the imagery surrounding Arthur, Lucy’s former fiancee, and see how it compares to Lucy’s description. Even as he’s killing Lucy, Arthur is described as “a figure of Thor”--meaning he’s strong, heroic, and good with a hammer. Stoker specifically says Arthur is “untrembling” in his task; despite its grisly nature, his steadiness showcases his commitment to protecting his country from the vampire threat...even when it means driving a stake in his lover’s heart. Additionally, his face has the “shine” of duty, which is a nod to the glowing, angelic halos of angels. Arthur’s bravery and light stands in contrast to Lucy’s dark, demonic nature, and Stoker specifically uses imagery to show readers how good can triumph over evil.


3 Questions to Ask When Analyzing Imagery

These examples have shown you how to find and analyze imagery, but you’ll have to do this all by yourself when you take the AP Literature exam. But don’t worry--now that you’re an expert, finding and analyzing imagery will be a breeze! But just in case you get stuck, here are three questions you can ask yourself to help you better analyze imagery in literature and poetry.

Question 1: What Did I Imagine While I Was Reading?  

The hardest part about analyzing imagery is finding it in the first place. Like we mentioned earlier, a good way to do this is to look for nouns and search for words that describe them. Then you can start asking yourself if those descriptions are figurative imagery (i.e., do those words have any implied or metaphorical meaning).

But when you’re crunched for time, you can go back to the tried-and-true method of using your imagination. Which parts of the text made you picture something in your mind? Since imagery is designed to spark your imagination, there’s a great chance that section contains some sort of imagery!

Question 2: What Does the Imagery Reveal About the Situation?

This question helps you get to the meat-and-potatoes of your analysis really quickly. Once you find a piece of imagery, ask yourself what it’s showing you . It could be describing an important setting, plot point, or character. Make sure you’re asking yourself if there’s figurative imagery at work, too.

If you’re struggling here, you can always go back to the “mental picture” we talked about with the first question. What do you see in that image? There’s a good chance that whatever you’re imagining matters in some way. Once you have that image in your mind, you can start to ask yourself why that particular image is important.

Here’s what we mean: think about the Jurassic Park example we talked about earlier. The imagery there tells us some literal things about what’s happening in the scene, but it also adds to the danger and suspense of the main characters’ predicament. The same can be said for the excerpt from “Daffodils,” only instead of revealing a plot point, the imagery gives readers important insight into the narrator of the poem.

Question 3: How Does the Imagery Affect the Mood of the Text?

Once you find a good piece of imagery, ask yourself how it makes you feel. Is it hopeful? Scary? Depressed? Angry? The feelings associated with the imagery in a work can often reveal the theme of a text.

Take Emily Dickinson’s poem. What feelings are associated with the imagery surrounding “hope”? Well, birds are tame and delicate, and the bird Dickinson describes sings sweetly through life’s fierce storms. Hope is clearly a reassuring, gentle, uplifting thing. By asking yourself why Dickinson thinks hope is good, you can start to figure out some of the messages of the poem!


What's Next?

Test out your new-found imagery chops by analyzing a poem on your own! We think that Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night” is a great place to start. Y ou can find the full text of the poem, as well as additional analysis, here .

There’s more to literary analysis than just knowing your way around imagery! Make sure you’re familiar with the most important literary devices, like personification, before you head into your AP test.

There are two parts to the AP Literature test: the multiple choice section and the essay section. Some students worry about the written portion of the test so much that they forget to study for the multiple choice questions! Don’t let this be your situation. Make sure you’re preparing for the whole test by reading through this guide to mastering the AP Literature exam’s multiple choice portion, too .

Need more help with this topic? Check out Tutorbase!

Our vetted tutor database includes a range of experienced educators who can help you polish an essay for English or explain how derivatives work for Calculus. You can use dozens of filters and search criteria to find the perfect person for your needs.

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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.

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Original Articles

Relationships between imagery and creative thinking were evaluated in a sample of 560 high school students. The Spatial Test of Primary Mental Abilities (Thurstone & Thurstone, 1989) was used to evaluate imaging ability; the Gordon Test of Visual Imagery Control (Richardson, 1969) was used to evaluate image control; and the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (Torrance & Ball, 1992) was used to evaluate creativity. Significant correlations were detected between imaging ability and creative thinking. Fluencey, originality, and resistance to premature closure correlations were stronger for students with high IQs than for those with low IQs. Analyses of variance indicated that imaging ability had significant effects on fluency, originality, elaboration, and resistance to premature closure.

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relationship between creative writing and types of imagery

Ebooks, Publishing, and Everything in Between

Exploring the Different Types of Creative Writing

Writing comes in all forms and sizes. But in order for a work to be considered creative writing, it must come from a place of imagination and emotion. 

Take for example what Franz Kafa said about creative writing, “Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” 

Many authors who choose to follow Kafka’s advice—to write “mercilessly” and from the soul—find it comforting that their writing doesn’t have to conform to one style. But this variety of types and forms might leave some writers a bit confused. 

That’s why, in this article, we are going to walk you through the most popular types of creative writing, with some great examples from authors who absolutely rocked their respective forms.   

Types of Creative Writing

In this article:

What Is Creative Writing?

Think of creative writing as a form of artistic expression. Authors bring this expression to life using their imagination, personal writing style, and personality.

Creative writing is also different from straightforward academic or technical writing. For instance, an economics book like Khalid Ikram’s The Political Economy of Reforms in Egypt is an academic monograph. This means that readers would rightfully expect it to contain analytic rather than creative writing.   

So what are some elements that make a written piece more creative than analytic?

Popular Techniques Used in Creative Writing

Despite the fact that creative writing can be “freer” and less traditional than academic writing, it is likely to contain one or more of the following six elements:

1. Literary Devices

Many creative writers use literary devices to convey the meaning and themes of their work. Some common literary devices are allegories , metaphors and similes , foreshadowing , and imagery . These all serve to make the writing more vivid and descriptive .

2. Narrative

Authors often use this technique to engage readers through storytelling. Narrative isn’t limited to novels and short stories; poems, autobiographies, and essays can be considered narratives if they tell a story. This can be fiction (as in novels) or nonfiction (as in memoirs and essays).

3. Point of View

All creative writing must have a point of view; that’s what makes it imaginative and original. The point of view is the perspective from which the author writes a particular piece. Depending on the type of work, the point of view can be first person, third person omniscient, third person limited , mixed (using third- and first-person writing), or—very rarely—second person.

4. Characterization

Characterization is the process by which authors bring their characters to life by assigning them physical descriptions, personality traits, points of view, background and history, and actions. Characterization is key in creative writing because it helps drive the plot forward. 

5. Dialogue

An important element used in many creative writing works is dialogue . Assigning 

dialogue to characters is a way for authors to show their characters’ different traits without explicitly listing them. 

Dialogue also immerses readers in the narrative’s action by highlighting the emotions and tensions between characters. Like characterization, it also helps drive the plot forward.  

6. Plot 

The plot is the sequence of events that make up a narrative and establish the themes and conflicts of a work . Plots will usually include an exp osi tion (the introduction), rising action (the complications), climax (the peak in action and excitement), falling action (the revelations and slowing down of events), and denouement (the conclusion). 


The Main Types of Creative Writing (With Examples)

What’s great about creative writing is that there are so many types to choose from. In this section, we’ll walk you through the most popular types of creative writing, along with some examples. 

Type 1: Free writing  

Free writing, also known as stream-of-consciousness writing, is a technique that allows words and images to spill onto the page without giving thought to logic, sequence, or grammar. Although authors often use it as an exercise to get rid of the infamous writer’s block , free writing is also useful within a larger work. 

For instance, let’s take a look at this excerpt from Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved.  

Beloved by Toni Morrison [an excerpt]

Beloved by Toni Morrison

the air is heavy I am not dead I am not there is a house there is what she whispered to me I am where she told me I am not dead I sit the sun closes my eyes when I open them I see the face I lost Sethe’s is the face that left me Sethe sees me see her and I see the smile her smiling face is the place for me it is the face I lost she is my face smiling at me

Note how the author uses free writing to convey the character’s disjointed and agitated thoughts. Even punctuation has been set aside here, adding to the rush of the character’s fear and confusion. The imagery is powerful (“the sun closes my eyes”; “her smiling face is the place for me”) and relies on repetitions like “I am not dead” and “I see” to immerse the readers in the character’s disturbed mental state. 

Type 2: Journals and Diaries  

A journal is a written account of an author’s experiences, activities, and feelings. A diary is an example of a journal, in which an author documents his/her life frequently. 

Journals and diaries can be considered creative writing, particularly if they offer more than just a log of events. For instance, if a diary entry discusses how the writer ran into an old friend, it might include details of the writer’s emotions and probably use literary devices to convey these feelings.   

It’s almost impossible to read the word “diary” and not think of Anne Frank. Let’s look at this excerpt from her work The Diary of a Young Girl . 

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl [an excerpt]

The diary of a young girl

Saturday, 20 June, 1942: I haven’t written for a few days, because I wanted first of all to think about my diary. It’s an odd idea for someone like me to keep a diary; not only because I have never done so before, but because it seems to me that neither I—nor for that matter anyone else—will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl. Still, what does that matter? I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart. 

In the extract above, Anne adopts a reflective tone. She uses the rhetorical question “what does that matter?” to illustrate how she arrived at the conclusion that this diary will help bring out what is “buried deep in her heart.” 

In this way, the diary serves as a log of events that happened in Anne’s life, but also as a space for Anne to reflect on them, and to explore her resulting emotions. 

Type 3: Memoir

Although they might seem similar at first, memoirs and diaries are two different creative writing types. While diaries offer a log of events recorded at frequent intervals, memoirs allow the writer to select key moments and scenes that help shed light on the writer’s life.  

Let’s examine this excerpt from the memoir of Roxanne Gay, author of Bad Feminist .

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxanne Gay:

Hunger: a memoir

I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere . . . I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.

Roxanne Gay offers readers a powerful work on anxiety, food, and body image by taking them on a journey through her past . Using evocative imagery in the excerpt above (“I buried the girl I was”; “I was trapped in my body”) the author shares her psychological trauma and resulting tumultuous relationship with food. 

As with most memoirs—and diaries—this one is intimate, allowing readers into the dark crevices of the author’s mind. However, unlike a diary, this memoir does not provide an account of the writer’s day-to-day life, but rather focuses on certain events—big and small—that the author feels made her who she is today. 

Type 4: Letters

Unlike diary and journal entries—which usually don’t have a specific recipient—letters address one target reader. Many famous authors have had collections of their letters published, revealing a side of them that isn’t visible in other works. 

Letter writing uncovers the nature of the relationship between sender and recipient, and can include elements of creative writing such as imagery, opinion, humor, and feeling. 

Here is an excerpt from a letter by Truman Capote, author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood . 

Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote , edited by Gerald Clarke 

Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote

Dear Bob;  Have come, am here, am slowly freezing to death; my fingers are pencils of ice. But really, all told, I think this is quite a place, at least so far. The company is fairly good… I have a bedroom in the mansion (there are bats circulating in some of the rooms, and Leo keeps his light on all night, for the wind blows eerily, doors creak, and the faint cheep cheep of the bats cry in the towers above: no kidding. 

In his letter to editor and friend Robert “Bob” Linscott, Truman paints a scene of his new setting . He uses hyperbole (“freezing to death”) and a powerful metaphor (“my fingers are pencils of ice”) to convey the discomforting cold weather. Truman also uses sound imagery (“doors creak”; “wind blows eerily”; “cheep cheep of the bats”) to communicate the creepy, sinister mood to his reader. 

Type 5: Personal Essays

Many of us don’t normally think of essays as creative writing, but that’s probably because our minds go to academic research essays. However, there are many types of essays that require creative rather than analytic writing, including discursive essays, descriptive essays, and personal essays. 

A personal essay, also known as a narrative essay, is a piece of nonfiction work that offers readers a story drawn from the author’s personal experience. This is different from a memoir, in which the primary focus is on the author and their multiple experiences. 

A personal essay, on the other hand, focuses on a message or theme , and the author’s personal experience is there to communicate that theme using memorable characters and setting , as well as engaging events . These, of course, all have to be true, otherwise the personal essay would turn into a fictional short story. 

Here is an excerpt from a personal essay by writers Chantha Nguon and Kim Green.

The Gradual Extinction of Softness by Chantha Nguon and Kim Green

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge informed the Cambodian people that we had no history, but we knew it was a lie. Cambodia has a rich past, a mosaic of flavors from near and far: South Indian traders gave us Buddhism and spicy curries; China brought rice noodles and astrology; and French colonizers passed on a love of strong coffee, flan, and a light, crusty baguette. We lifted the best tastes from everywhere and added our own.

The opening of this paragraph establishes the author’s strong and unwavering opinion : “we knew it was a lie.” Instead of providing a history of Cambodia, she demonstrates the country’s rich past by discussing its diverse “flavors”: “spicy curries”; “strong coffee”; “light, crusty baguette”, etc. 

Using gustatory imagery , which conveys a sense of taste , the authors reveal their personal version of what makes Cambodia wonderful. The writer communicates the essay’s theme of food and memories through a story of her childhood. 

Type 6: Poetry  

Robert Frost once wrote: “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” Good poetry is effective because it uses the power of imagery to convey what it is to be human. Every word in a poem counts, and the best poems are those that evoke the reader’s emotions without unpacking too much. 

As one of the most diverse types of creative writing, poetry can come in many forms. Some poets prefer to write in the more traditional forms such as sonnets , villanelles , and haikus , where you have particular structures, rhyme, and rhythm to follow. And others prefer the freedom of free verse and blackout poetry . 

Let’s take a look at this excerpt from Maya Angelou’s powerful lyric poem , “Still I Rise.”

“Still I Rise” from And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems by Maya Angelou

Still I Rise

Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise Up from a past that’s rooted in pain I rise I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise.

Packed with powerful language, this excerpt from Angelou’s poem gives us absolute 

chills! The refrain “I rise” is repeated 7 times in these two verses alone, 

hammering home the idea that the speaker cannot be defeated. 

The imagery, repetition, and rhyme scheme all work together to convey the emotions of pride and resilience. Both verses also rely heavily on metaphors (“I’m a black ocean”; “I am the dream and the hope of the slave”) to convey the speaker’s power. She is not like an ocean or a dream; she is both, and she is unstoppable. 

Type 7: Song Lyrics  

Song lyrics are in many ways similar to poems, except that lyrics are meant to be sung . They are a form of creative writing that allows writers to surpass the rules of grammar and punctuation in favor of creating rhyme and rhythm . This means that the creativity of a  song lyricist is free from the traditional restrictions of language. 

Type 8: Scripts  

Scriptwriting is a form of creative writing that relies heavily on character dialogue , stage directions , and setting . Scripts are written for films and TV shows (known as screenplays and teleplays), stage plays, commercials, and radio and podcast programs. 

Like song lyrics, scripts are written with the intention of reaching a non-reading audience. In other words, scriptwriters must bear in mind how their writing will be 1) interpreted by other storytellers , such as directors, designers, etc., and 2) performed by actors.   

Let’s examine the iconic opening scene from the screenplay of the film Forrest Gump . 

Forrest Gump , screenplay by Eric Roth [an excerpt]

THE MAN Hello, I’m Forrest. I’m Forrest Gump.  She nods, not much interested. He takes an old candy kiss out of his pocket. Offering it to her:  FORREST (cont’d) Do you want a chocolate? She shakes “no.” He unwraps it, popping it in his mouth.  FORREST (cont’d) I could eat about a million and a half of these. Mama said, “Life was just a box of chocolates. You never know what you gonna get.”

From the dialogue and stage directions in this opening scene, the audience can see that there is something innocent, kind-hearted, and simple about the character Forrest Gump. This is conveyed through the way he introduces himself with a slight repetition (“I’m Forrest. I’m Forrest Gump.”) to a complete stranger, and the way he quotes his mother to her. 

Moreover, the action of  Forrest “popping” the candy in his mouth is almost childlike , and that the stranger is reluctant to communicate with him foreshadows the fact that the people Forrest meets are initially suspicious of him and his innocence. Thus, the pauses and silences in the scene are just as important to the work as what is explicitly said. 

Type 9: Short Fiction

Short fiction is a form of creative fiction writing that typically falls between 5,000 to 10,000 words ; however, there is definitely room to go lower than 5,000 words, depending on the topic. 

For instance, flash fiction is a form of short fiction that can be 1,000 words or less. In the case of flash fiction, the author unpacks the “skeleton” of a story in as few words as possible. For instance, legend has it that Ernest Hemingway wrote a 6-word “story”:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn. 

 In just six words, the reader is led to understand that this is a story of death and loss. 

Nevertheless, the average short story is usually structured around the following elements: characterization , setting , plot , and conflict . Many fiction authors start out writing short fiction because it enables them to nail all the essential elements, which they can then expand upon in longer works. 

Let’s look at an excerpt from Janet Frame’s short story, “The Bath”

“The Bath” by Janet Frame [an excerpt]

She leaned forward, feeling the pain in her back and shoulder. She grasped the rim of the bath but her fingers slithered from it almost at once. She would not pancic, she told herself; she would try gradually, carefully, to get out. Again she leaned forward; again her grip loosened as if iron hands had deliberately uncurled her stiffened blue fingers from their trembling hold. Her heart began to beat faster, her breath came more quickly, her mouth was dry. She moistened her lips. If I shout for help, she thought, no-one will hear me. No-one in the world will hear me. No-one will know I’m in the bath and can’t get out. 

In this paragraph, there is an image of a frail, old woman, physically unable to get out of her bathtub. The diction , or word choice, serves to convey the woman’s sense of fear and helplessness. For instance, words like “grasped,” “slithered,” “uncurled,” and “stiffened,” demonstrate the immense effort it takes for her to try to get out.

 The image of her “moistening” her lips illustrates that fear has turned her mouth dry. And the repetition of “no-one” in the last few sentences highlights the woman’s loneliness and entrapment —two of the story’s main themes. Indeed, the bath symbolizes the unavoidable obstacles brought about by old age. 

Type 10: Novellas / Novels

Novels are one of the most popular forms of creative writing. Though they vary in length, depending on the subject, they’re generally considered a long form of fiction , typically divided into chapters . 

Novellas, on the other hand, are shorter than novels but longer than short stories. Like short stories, novels and novellas contain characters , plot , dialogue , and setting ; however, their longer forms allow writers a chance to delve much deeper into those elements. 

Type 11: Speeches 

Speeches are a form of writing similar to essays in that both forms are non-fiction , and both usually entail a discussion of the writer’s personal experiences and include engaging events and a particular theme.  

However, speeches differ from essays in that the former are meant to be recited (usually in front of an audience), and tend to be persuasive and inspirational. For instance, think of the purpose of graduation speeches and political speeches: they aim to inspire and move listeners. 

One of the most well-known speeches from the 20th century is Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream”. Let’s examine the excerpt below:

“I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King [an excerpt]

I have a dream (speech writing)

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

What immediately catches the eye (and ear) in this paragraph is the speaker’s usage of anaphora : the repetition of the phrase “now is the time” serves to emphasize the urgency of the matter being discussed (i.e. the prevalence of racial injustice). 

The speaker’s repetition of the pronoun “our” is an appeal to his audience’s emotions and their sense of unity. Both he and they are in this together, and thus he is motivating them to take on the challenge as one. 

Moreover, the use of figurative language is abundant here and can be found in similar inspirational and motivational styles of creative writing. The imagery created by the metaphor and alliteration in “the d ark and d esolate valley of segregation,” and its juxtaposition with “sunlit path of racial justice,” together aim to convey the speaker’s main message. Segregation has brought nothing but darkness and ruin to American society, but there is hope and light on the path toward racial equality.

Final Thoughts

Creative writing acts as a medium for artistic expression. It can come in a variety of forms, from screenplays and speeches to poetry and flash fiction. But what groups all of these different types of creative writing under the “creative” umbrella, regardless of form, is their display of a writer’s imagination, creativity, and linguistic prowess. 

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2.2: Elements of Creative Nonfiction

The main elements of creative nonfiction are setting, descriptive imagery, figurative language , plot , and character . The overarching element or requirement that distinguishes creative nonfiction from any other genre of writing is that while other literary genres can spring from the imagination, creative nonfiction is, by definition, true. As you complete the assigned readings in this chapter, keep track of the following elements as they arise in your readings: see if you can identify each of them. Learning these elements now will form a solid foundation for the rest of the class.

Each story has a setting. The setting is the place where the story takes place. Usually, an effective story establishes its setting early in the story: otherwise readers will have a difficult time visualizing the action of the story. Below is an example of how a writer might establish setting in a way which immerses the reader: by showing rather than telling.

Which of the above lakes would you want to visit? Which one paints a more immersive picture, making you feel like you are there? When writing a story, our initial instinct is usually to make a list of chronological moments: first I did this, then I did this, then I did that, it was neat-o. That might be factual, but it does not engage the reader or invite them into your world. It bores the reader. Ever been stuck listening to someone tell a story that seems like it will never end? It probably was someone telling you a story rather than using the five senses to immerse you . In the example above, the writer uses visual (sight), auditory (sound), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), or gustatory (taste) imagery to help the reader picture the setting in their mind. By the final draft, the entire story should be compelling and richly detailed. While it's fine to have an outline or first draft that recounts the events of the story, the final draft should include dialogue, immersive description, plot twists, and metaphors to capture your reader's attention as you write.

an aquamarine alpine lake surrounded by trees with a snow-capped mountain in the background

"Eibsee Lake" by barnyz , 2 August 2011, published on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Descriptive Imagery

You have probably encountered descriptive imagery before. Basically, it is the way the writer paints the scene, or image, in the mind of the reader. It usually involves descriptions of one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste. For example, how would you describe a lemon to a person who has never seen one before?

activity: describe a lemon

a lemon cut into slices

"Lemon" by André Karwath (2005) is licensed CC BY-SA 2.5

Imagine you are describing a lemon to someone who has never seen one before. How would you describe it using all five senses?

One might describe a lemon as yellow, sour-smelling and tasting, and with a smooth, bumpy skin. They might describe the sound of the lemon as a thump on the table if it is dropped, or squelching if it is squished underfoot. By painting a picture in the reader's mind, it immerses them in the story so that they feel they are actually there.

Figurative Language

As a counterpart to descriptive imagery, figurative language is using language in a surprising way to describe a literary moment. Figurative language can take the form of metaphor, such as saying "the lemon tree was heavy with innumerable miniature suns." Since the lemons are not actually suns, this is figurative. Figurative language can also take the form of simile: "aunt Becky's attitude was as sour as a lemon." By comparing an abstract concept (attitude) to an object (lemon), it imparts a feeling/meaning in a more interesting way.

Plot is one of the basic elements of every story: put simply, plot refers to the actual events that take place within the bounds of your narrative. Using our rhetorical situation vocabulary, we can identify “plot” as the primary subject of a descriptive personal narrative. Three related elements to consider are scope, sequence, and pacing.

The term scope refers to the boundaries of plot. Where and when does the story begin and end? What is its focus? What background information and details does the story require? I often think about narrative scope as the edges of a photograph: a photo, whether of a vast landscape or a microscopic organism, has boundaries. Those boundaries inform the viewer’s perception.

The way we determine scope varies based on rhetorical situation, but I can say generally that many developing writers struggle with a scope that is too broad: writers often find it challenging to zero in on the events that drive a story and prune out extraneous information.

Consider, as an example, how you might respond if your friend asked what you did last weekend. If you began with, “I woke up on Saturday morning, rolled over, checked my phone, fell back asleep, woke up, pulled my feet out from under the covers, put my feet on the floor, stood up, stretched…” then your friend might have stopped listening by the time you get to the really good stuff. Your scope is too broad, so you’re including details that distract or bore your reader. Instead, focus on the most exciting or meaningful moment(s) of your day: "I woke up face-down to the crunch of shattered glass underneath me. When I wobbled to my feet I realized I was in a large, marble room with large windows overlooking the flashing neon lights of the Las Vegas strip. I had no idea how I got there!" Readers can expect this story will focus on how the storyteller arrived in Las Vegas, and it is much more interesting than including every single detail of the day.

The sequence of your plot—the order of the events—will determine your reader’s experience. There are an infinite number of ways you might structure your story, and the shape of your story is worth deep consideration. Although the traditional forms for a narrative sequence are not your only options, let’s take a look at a few tried-and-true shapes your plot might take.

Freytag's Pyramid is in the public domain

Freytag's Pyramid: Chronological

A. Exposition : Here, you’re setting the scene, introducing characters, and preparing the reader for the journey.

B. Rising action : In this part, things start to happen. You (or your characters) encounter conflict, set out on a journey, meet people, etc.

C. Climax : This is the peak of the action, the main showdown, the central event toward which your story has been building.

D. Falling action : Now things start to wind down. You (or your characters) come away from the climactic experience changed—at the very least, you are wiser for having had that experience.

E. Resolution : Also known as dénouement, this is where all the loose ends get tied up. The central conflict has been resolved, and everything is back to normal, but perhaps a bit different.

In Medias Res

While Freytag's Pyramid tends to follow a linear or chronological structure, a story that begins in medias res begins in the middle of the action. In fact, the Latin translation for this term most literally means "in the middle of things." This is a more exciting way to start a story in that it grabs the readers' attention quickly.

There I was floating in the middle of the ocean, the sharks with laser beams attached to their heads circling hungrily, the red lights bouncing off of the floating disco ball upon which I clung to for dear life, when I thought back to the events which led to this horrifying situation...

The best In Medias Res beginnings make the reader go "WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON HERE?" and want to continue reading. They will usually follow the following inversion of Freytag's Pyramid:

C. Climax : This is the peak of the action, the main showdown, the central event of the story where the conflict comes to a head. A. Exposition : Here, you’re setting the scene, introducing characters, and preparing the reader for the journey.

B. Rising action : In this part, things start to happen. You (or your characters) encounter conflict, set out on a journey, meet people, etc. C. Climax : the story briefly returns to the moment where it started, though usually not in a way which is redundant (not the exact same writing or details)

Nonlinear Narrative

A nonlinear narrative may be told in a series of flashbacks or vignettes. It might jump back and forth in time. Stories about trauma are often told in this fashion. If using this plot form, be sure to make clear to readers how/why the jumps in time are occurring. A writer might clarify jumps in time by adding time-stamps or dates or by using symbolic images to connect different vignettes.

While scope determines the boundaries of plot, and sequencing determines where the plot goes, pacing determines how quickly readers move through the story. In short, it is the amount of time you dedicate to describing each event in the story.

I include pacing with sequence because a change to one often influences the other. Put simply, pacing refers to the speed and fluidity with which a reader moves through your story. You can play with pacing by moving more quickly through events, or even by experimenting with sentence and paragraph length. Consider how the “flow” of the following examples differ:

A major requirement of any story is the use of characters. Characters bring life to the story. Keep in mind that while human characters are most frequently featured in stories, sometimes there are non-human characters in a story such as animals or even the environment itself. Consider, for example, the ways in which the desert itself might be considered a character in "Bajadas" by Francisco Cantú.


Whether a story is fiction or nonfiction, writers should spend some time thinking about characterization: the development of characters through actions, descriptions, and dialogue. Your audience will be more engaged with and sympathetic toward your narrative if they can vividly imagine the characters as real people.

Like setting description, characterization relies on specificity. Consider the following contrast in character descriptions:

How does the “cry-smile” detail enhance the characterization of the speaker’s parent?

To break it down to process, characterization can be accomplished in two ways:

Thinking through these questions will help you get a better understanding of each character (often including yourself!). You do not need to include all the details, but they should inform your description, dialogue, and narration.

Point of View

The position from which your story is told will help shape your reader’s experience, the language your narrator and characters use, and even the plot itself. You might recognize this from Dear White People Volume 1 or Arrested Development Season 4, both Netflix TV series. Typically, each episode in these seasons explores similar plot events, but from a different character’s perspective. Because of their unique vantage points, characters can tell different stories about the same realities.

This is, of course, true for our lives more generally. In addition to our differences in knowledge and experiences, we also interpret and understand events differently. In our writing, narrative position is informed by point-of-view and the emotional valences I refer to here as tone and mood.

point-of-view (POV): the perspective from which a story is told.

Although point-of-view will influence tone and mood, we can also consider what feelings we want to convey and inspire independently as part of our narrative position.

tone: the emotional register of the story’s language.

mood: the emotional register a reader experiences.

A Non-Comprehensive Breakdown of POV

Typically, you will tell your story from the first-person point-of-view, but personal narratives can also be told from a different perspective; I recommend “Comatose Dreams” to illustrate this at work. As you’re developing and revising your writing, try to inhabit different authorial positions: What would change if you used the third person POV instead of first person? What different meanings would your reader find if you told this story with a different tone—bitter instead of nostalgic, proud rather than embarrassed, sarcastic rather than genuine?

Furthermore, there are many rhetorical situations that call for different POVs. (For instance, you may have noticed that this book uses the second-person very frequently.) So, as you evaluate which POV will be most effective for your current rhetorical situation, bear in mind that the same choice might inform your future writing.

dialogue: communication between two or more characters. For example...

"Hate to break it to you, but your story is boring."

"What? Why do you say that?" he stuttered as his face reddened.

"Because you did not include any dialogue," she laughed.

Think of the different conversations you’ve had today, with family, friends, or even classmates. Within each of those conversations, there were likely pre-established relationships that determined how you talked to each other: each is its own rhetorical situation. A dialogue with your friends, for example, may be far different from one with your family. These relationships can influence tone of voice, word choice (such as using slang, jargon, or lingo), what details we share, and even what language we speak.

Good dialogue often demonstrates the traits of a character or the relationship of characters. From reading or listening to how people talk to one another, we often infer the relationships they have. We can tell if they’re having an argument or conflict, if one is experiencing some internal conflict or trauma, if they’re friendly acquaintances or cold strangers, even how their emotional or professional attributes align or create opposition.

Often, dialogue does more than just one thing, which makes it a challenging tool to master. When dialogue isn’t doing more than one thing, it can feel flat or expositional, like a bad movie or TV show where everyone is saying their feelings or explaining what just happened. For example, there is a difference between “No thanks, I’m not hungry” and “I’ve told you, I’m not hungry.” The latter shows frustration, and hints at a previous conversation. Exposition can have a place in dialogue, but we should use it deliberately, with an awareness of how natural or unnatural it may sound. We should be aware how dialogue impacts the pacing of the narrative. Dialogue can be musical and create tempo, with either quick back and forth, or long drawn out pauses between two characters. Rhythm of a dialogue can also tell us about the characters’ relationship and emotions.

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What is Imagery in Literature? Definition and Examples

relationship between creative writing and types of imagery

by Fija Callaghan

Updated Jan 20, 2022

What pulls a reader into a story? Is it strong, relatable characters? Fantastic settings? Or is it a deep, universal theme that hits your reader on a visceral level?

These literary devices are all super important for creating a work that people love to read, but often what really draws in a reader is imagery ; the vivid way in which we show the reader the world of our story. Imagery is what brings your story from the distant somewhere else into the here and now .

What is imagery in writing?

Imagery is a literary device that uses descriptive language to create a mental snapshot for the reader. This can be used to give context to the events of your story, to immerse your reader in an unfamiliar setting, to communicate mood and tone for a particular scene, or to create an emotional response in your reader.

You can create imagery that activates all of the reader’s senses, not just the visual sense. Sound, smell, taste, touch, and movement all help to create vibrant scenes that make the reader feel as if they were there. When your reader begins to feel like they’re a part of the world of your story, that’s when they start to invest in the characters , events, and big picture themes that you’re working to communicate through your writing.

How is imagery different from symbolism?

Imagery and symbolism are two literary devices that sound kind of similar because they both use images to communicate with the reader. But they’re not quite the same. The biggest difference between imagery and symbolism is that imagery engages the reader on a sensory, emotional level, and symbolism engages the reader on a more intellectual level.

Imagery uses all of our senses to create a vivid picture of a person, place, object, or moment for the reader. For example, consider this use of imagery to describe a box:

The box full of letters is made of metal that’s painted bright red, heavier than it looks and cold to the touch. The metal is smooth except for one place near the lock, which is rough with scratches where someone once tried to pry it open. There’s a handle on top that squeaks when you try to lift it because of the rust that’s starting to form where the handle joins the lid.

Can you see the box clearly in your mind? That’s imagery at work.

Compare that to symbolism, which is when a writer attributes an underlying meaning to a person, place, or object. This brings depth to your story and helps communicate underlying themes and ideas. If you’re using symbolism, you might say that the letter box is a symbol of a couple’s growing resentment to each other—the vivid color makes it impossible to ignore, it weighs them down more than they’d like to admit, and their relationship is beginning to corrode because of it.

Using imagery and symbolism together like that is very effectively for create strong, emotional connections for the reader.

Literal vs. figurative imagery

When we talk about imagery, we’re really talking about two distinct devices: literal imagery and figurative imagery. Let’s look a little closer at each one.

1. Literal imagery

Literal imagery uses descriptive language to show something exactly the way it is, using ideas that we can see, hear, and touch. When we described the box above as red, cold, heavy, smooth, and squeaking, we were using literal imagery— straightforward, unadorned words to create a realistic idea in the reader’s head. This technique can be very powerful because it uses language that we already have a clear reference for. This makes the scene more real and tangible for the reader.

2. Figurative imagery

Figurative imagery uses descriptive literary devices like similes, metaphors, and hyperbole to create a vivid picture for the reader. Rather than telling them exactly what they’re seeing in the world of your story, figurative imagery allows them to create their own image out of your words. Using figurative imagery, we could describe the box as “red as a gaping wound,” or “heavy as an elephant,” or say that holding it is like “reaching into icy water.” This kind of language can create a strong emotional response in the reader.

Many authors favor one type of imagery over the other—what type of imagery you most resonate with is an important part of your writer’s voice . Finding a comfortable balance of both literal and figurative imagery in your writing is ultimately one of the things that makes a great writer.

Types of imagery to use in your story

Effective imagery uses all of the senses to create a detailed world for your story. Most of us rely mainly on our eyes to take in information, but as a writer, you have a whole range of senses to explore. Every one of them can be used to bring your reader deeper and deeper into your story world.

1. Visual imagery

Visual imagery encompasses everything that we can see. Colors, shapes, sizes, proportions, angles, edges, textures, and contrast are all different things you can communicate with visual imagery. Saying that a man stood half in and half out of shadow, his wool collar turned up against his face and his hair turned golden by the lamplight, is an example of using different aspects of visual imagery to create a clear scene.

2. Auditory imagery

Auditory imagery is everything that we hear. Next to our eyes, our ears tell us the most about our environment. Your characters might hear other voices, nearby traffic, music coming from a neighbor’s apartment, water dripping through pipes, the knocking of an air conditioner, branches rustling, distant machinery, a keyboard clattering, or the soft rustle of the turning pages of a book. Using auditory imagery can reveal surprising things about your story and convey new information to your characters, as well as immersing your readers deeper into the scene.

3. Gustatory imagery

Gustatory imagery is the imagery of taste. What and how we taste is one of the most important ways in which we define culture, and often one of the first things people become aware of when immersing themselves in cultures outside of their own. You can use gustatory imagery to describe the way food tastes, of course, but also the way the air tastes in a new environment, the way blood tastes if you accidentally bite your tongue, the taste of plastic and ink as you chew the end of your pen in thought. You can also use gustatory imagery in a metaphorical way, as well as in a literal one; for example, the way a new love affair might taste of honeyed sweetness but an argument might taste bitter and acidic.

4. Olfactory imagery

Olfactory imagery is the imagery of scent. More than any other sense, our sense of smell is deeply linked to the way we form and perceive memory. In your story, using olfactory imagery is an easy way to link different times and places. Olfactory memories can be pleasant, or they can be less so; your characters memories might be triggered by the smell of lavender like they used to smell in their childhood garden, by the smell of hot concrete in the sun as they remember the events of a particularly hot day, by the smell of burning toast that brings them back to a traumatic event, or by the fragrance that a loved one used to wear, even if your character hasn’t thought about them in decades.

5. Tactile imagery

Tactile imagery encompasses our sense of physical contact. For many people, touch is the sense we subconsciously trust the most; it’s easy to doubt the things you see and hear, but if it can be tangibly felt by your bare skin, it becomes real in an unequivocal way. Things like a baby’s skin, a man’s unshaven face, the rough fabric of a tweed coat, slimy cough medicine, a warm teacup, or the cold surface of a window are all ways to use tactile imagery to create an emotional impact. How do different textures bring back memories and elicit feelings?

6. Kinesthetic imagery

Kinesthetic imagery is related to tactile imagery, but it specifically refers to the feeling of movement. These can be things like hair blowing across your face in the wind, a rope slipping slowly from your grasp, the discomfort of shifting an aching muscle, the feeling of bread dough being kneaded in your hands, or the feeling of shoes beginning to drag across the sidewalk after a very long walk. This type of imagery reflects one state changing to another, and is often used in moments where something is being created, broken, found, or lost.

7. Composite imagery

Composite imagery is a device that uses contradictory senses to create an image or feeling. These are always figurative , rather than literal . For example, you could say, “kissing her tasted like sunlight,” mixing gustatory imagery with tactile and visual imagery; or, “his voice sounded like splintered wood,” mixing auditory imagery with tactile imagery. This literary device uses metaphors to create surprising connections and shows your reader what’s happening in a fresh way.

Examples of evocative imagery in literature

1. stardust , by neil gaiman.

Something stung his left hand. He slapped at it, expecting to see an insect. He looked down to see a pale yellow leaf. It fell to the ground with a rustle. On the back of his hand, a veining of red, wet blood welled up. The wood whispered about them.

This moment opens with tactile imagery in the feeling of being stung and then the slapping of skin on skin. Then Gaiman shows us, through visual imagery, the conflict of what the character expected to see and what he really saw. The verbs “rustle” and “whispered” add a powerful auditory layer to this vibrant scene.

2. The Strawberry Thief , by Joanne Harris

The dry reek of cigarettes has become the scent of burning leaves; the sweet and simple bonfire scent of autumn nights by the fireside. The chocolate is cooler now: the silky consistency has returned. I return the pan to the burner. Tiny petals of steam lift from the glossy surface.

This author uses olfactory imagery to marvelous effect as she shows the subtle change from one moment to another. Then the moment moves into visual imagery as it explores the contrasting textures of the chocolate and the steam, taking us effectively from the negative “reek of cigarettes” to the more pleasant-sounding “tiny petals of steam.”

3. The Little Sister , by Raymond Chandler

I smelled Los Angeles before I got to it. It smelled stale and old like a living room that had been closed too long. But the colored lights fooled you. The lights were wonderful. There ought to be a monument to the man who invented neon lights.

This is another example of an author who effectively uses imagery in juxtaposition, showing the city’s worst and best qualities side by side. He uses olfactory imagery to express the negative in a poetic and imaginative way, and then lays down the positive aspect through very simple visual imagery focusing on the brightness of the lights around him.

4. An Irish Country Girl , by Patrick Taylor

She smiled, but her smile soon fled when she heard a very different noise. It was wind howling through bare-branched trees. The walls of the kitchen became blurred, the range and stove vanished, there were no cooking smells, only a chill in her nostrils. Maureen saw flakes, whirling and flying, and small sheep huddled against a gale.

Here Taylor uses auditory imagery to take the character and the reader from a lighthearted moment into a much darker one. He uses olfactory imagery very powerfully by describing an lack of smells, rather than ones that are present, and visual imagery to pick out just a few poignant details that make the scene come to life.

5. The Wild Swans , by Jackie Morris

The lower floors were warm from the kitchen fires and rich with the scent of baking and roasting, bright with the bustle of busy working. The higher floors danced with the light that flooded in through the casement windows.

Morris blends different types of imagery to create a single moment full of light and life. She uses tactile imagery in showing us that the rooms are warm, olfactory imagery in the foods that are being prepared, kinesthetic imagery in the bustle of workers and the dancing light, and visual imagery in describing the fires and the way light falls through the windows. In this example, several types of imagery are effortlessly entwined at once. Can you feel the powerful effect of all of these types of imagery used simultaneously?

How increasing your sensory awareness will make you a better writer

Here’s a fun, easy exercise to help you develop your writer’s muscles and create stronger imagery for your story.

Go sit somewhere away from home, like a park, shopping mall, or café. Bring a notebook with you so you can record your observations. Get settled and make six headings in your notebook, one for each of the imagery types we looked at above. What you’re going to do is try to focus on your environment using only one sense at a time. Begin with any sense you feel like, except visual—because human beings are so reliant on their visual sense, it’s best to leave that one for the very end and challenge yourself to experience the world through your other senses first.

Close your eyes and use the sense you picked to pay attention to the world around you.

What do you hear? Are there people talking close by, fountains bubbling, espresso machines grinding, dogs barking, wind rustling the treetops, old pipes whispering behind walls?

What do you smell? Grass being cut, aromatics in soil released by the rain, hairspray straggling in the air, somebody’s takeout food?

What do you feel? The weight of your scarf around your neck, smooth wood from a park bench under your hands, a gentle breeze blowing stray hair across your forehead, vibrations under your feet from someone running nearby?

Go through every sense and after each one, open your eyes and record everything you remember.

You’ll be amazed at how much information there is around us all the time that our bodies are taking in without even realizing it. Every single one of these experiences can be used in your writing. Little details like these ones will make your stories more real and present for the reader as they immerse themselves in your world.

Imagery gives life and color to your writing

Imagery is around us all the time in the things we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Using imagery in your writing is a great way to communicate new information with the reader, create a shift in tone from one moment to another, enhance the mood of a particular scene, and bring new life to your story. Once you begin experimenting with different types of imagery in your writing, you’ll find yourself looking at the world of your story—and the world around you—in a whole new way.

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I. What is Imagery?

Imagery is language used by poets, novelists and other writers to create images in the mind of the reader. Imagery includes figurative and metaphorical language to improve the reader’s experience through their senses.

II. Examples of Imagery

Imagery using  visuals:

The night was black as ever, but bright stars lit up the sky in beautiful and varied constellations which were sprinkled across the astronomical landscape.

In this example, the experience of the night sky is described in depth with color (black as ever, bright), shape (varied constellations), and pattern (sprinkled).

Imagery using sounds:

Silence was broken by the peal of piano keys as Shannon began practicing her concerto .

Here, auditory imagery breaks silence with the beautiful sound of piano keys.

Imagery using scent:

She smelled the scent of sweet hibiscus wafting through the air, its tropical smell a reminder that she was on vacation in a beautiful place.

The scent of hibiscus helps describe a scene which is relaxing, warm, and welcoming.

Imagery using taste:

The candy melted in her mouth and swirls of bittersweet chocolate and slightly sweet but salty caramel blended together on her tongue.

Thanks to an in-depth description of the candy’s various flavors, the reader can almost experience the deliciousness directly.

Imagery using touch:

After the long run, he collapsed in the grass with tired and burning muscles. The grass tickled his skin and sweat cooled on his brow.

In this example, imagery is used to describe the feeling of strained muscles, grass’s tickle, and sweat cooling on skin.

III. Types of Imagery

Here are the five most common types of imagery used in creative writing:


a. Visual Imagery

Visual imagery describes what we see: comic book images, paintings, or images directly experienced through the narrator’s eyes. Visual imagery may include:

b. Auditory Imagery

Auditory imagery describes what we hear, from music to noise to pure silence. Auditory imagery may include:

c. Olfactory Imagery

Olfactory imagery describes what we smell. Olfactory imagery may include:

d. Gustatory Imagery

Gustatory imagery describes what we taste. Gustatory imagery can include:

e. Tactile Imagery

Lastly, tactile imagery describes what we feel or touch. Tactile imagery includes:

IV. The Importance of Using Imagery

Because we experience life through our senses, a strong composition should appeal to them through the use of imagery. Descriptive imagery launches the reader into the experience of a warm spring day, scorching hot summer, crisp fall, or harsh winter. It allows readers to directly sympathize with characters and narrators as they imagine having the same sense experiences. Imagery commonly helps build compelling poetry, convincing narratives , vivid plays, well-designed film sets, and descriptive songs.

V. Imagery in Literature

Imagery is found throughout literature in poems, plays, stories, novels, and other creative compositions. Here are a few examples of imagery in literature:

Excerpt describing a fish :

his brown skin hung in strips like ancient wallpaper, and its pattern of darker brown was like wallpaper: shapes like full-blown roses stained and lost through age .

This excerpt from Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Fish” is brimming with visual imagery. It beautifies and complicates the image of a fish that has just been caught. You can imagine the fish with tattered, dark brown skin “like ancient wallpaper” covered in barnacles, lime deposits, and sea lice. In just a few lines, Bishop mentions many colors including brown, rose, white, and green.

Another example :

A taste for the miniature was one aspect of an orderly spirit. Another was a passion for secrets: in a prized varnished cabinet, a secret drawer was opened by pushing against the grain of a cleverly turned dovetail joint , and here she kept a diary locked by a clasp , and a notebook written in a code of her own invention. … An old tin petty cash box was hidden under a removable floorboard beneath her bed.

In this excerpt from Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement , we can almost feel the cabinet and its varnished texture or the joint that is specifically in a dovetail shape. We can also imagine the clasp detailing on the diary and the tin cash box that’s hidden under a floorboard. Various items are described in-depth, so much so that the reader can easily visualize them.

VI. Imagery in Pop Culture

Imagery can be found throughout pop culture in descriptive songs, colorful plays, and in exciting movie and television scenes.

Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox:

FANTASTIC MR. FOX - Official Theatrical Trailer

Wes Anderson is known for his colorful, imaginative, and vivid movie making. The imagery in this film is filled with detail, action, and excitement.

Louis Armstrong’s “ What a Wonderful World. ”

Louis Armstrong - What A Wonderful World Lyrics

Armstrong’s classic song is an example of simple yet beautiful imagery in song. For instance, the colors are emphasized in the green trees, red blooming roses, blue skies, and white clouds from the bright day to the dark night.

VII. Related Terms

(Terms: metaphor,  onomatopoeia and personification)

Metaphor is often used as a type of imagery. Specifically, metaphor is the direct comparison of two distinct things. Here are a few examples of metaphor as imagery:

Onomatopoeia is also a common tool used for imagery. Onomatopoeia is a form of auditory imagery in which the word used sounds like the thing it describes. Here are a few examples of onomatopoeia as imagery:

Personification is another tool used for imagery. Personification provides animals and objects with human-like characteristics. Here are a few examples of personification as imagery:

List of Terms


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For example, you could say that finding your ring amid the living room clutter “will be difficult.” Or, you could make that difficulty easier to comprehend by using the analogy, “finding the ring will be like finding a needle in a haystack.”

This use of analogies is common in the English language, both in writing and in everyday communication. Knowing how to use them effectively will help your audience better connect to your writing.

What Is an Analogy?

An analogy is a comparison between two things that share a similarity, with the ultimate goal of explaining or clarifying their connection.

Other figures of speech that make comparisons are similes and metaphors , but these normally show similarities between two objects, whereas the goal of an analogy is to explain the connection.

The Importance of Analogy 

Since analogies draw logical connections to make comparisons, they perform the following functions: 

Analogies make the abstract more concrete. 

Abstract ideas are often difficult to comprehend because they are not visible or tangible. But when you connect an abstract idea with concrete objects, it becomes easier to understand. 

For example, in biology, it may be difficult to imagine what white blood cells do inside the body. A good teacher may describe their work as being similar to that of policemen defending a town against intruders. 

Analogies build deeper connections.

Using analogies to describe an experience can touch on deeper emotions than simply stating facts. For example, in Psalms, David draws analogies on how he’s feeling, such as: 

Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. Psalm 69 from The Bible

In reality, David was not literally getting drowned in water, but the turmoil of his emotions felt like it. Compare the depth of the text above with the simplified sentence below: 

Save me, O God! I’m in the deepest trouble. 

Examples of Analogies

Take a look at these examples of analogies and their meanings.

Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get. 

This analogy, made famous in the film Forrest Gump , shows how life is full of chance and surprises, much like picking out a chocolate from a box without knowing what’s inside the candy.

She says that talking to her teenage son is like talking to a brick wall. 

This analogy shows how futile the person feels it is to talk to her son: just like talking to a brick wall, she does not get through to him, nor does she get any response. 

Just as the stomach is hungry for food, the mind is hungry for ideas. 

British educator Charlotte Mason made this analogy in explaining how children’s minds need to be fed with ideas on a regular basis. With this picture, it becomes easier to imagine how often a child’s mind needs to be “fed.” 

Two Types of Analogy in Writing 

In writing, there are two main types of analogies:

Analogies between identical relationships

The root of the word “analogy” comes from an ancient Greek word that means “proportionality.” The Greeks used analogies to show the similarities between two words, usually for logical and argumentative purposes. 

This kind of analogy uses an identical relationship between two pairs of words, as in, “Top is to bottom as left is to right.” Both pairs of words show an identical relationship, that of being opposites or antonyms to each other. 

Analogies that highlight shared abstraction 

Another form of analogy compares two items that are unrelated with the purpose of drawing comparisons between an attribute that they share. For example, raising children might be compared to gardening: water what you would like to grow, pull out the weeds you don’t want to see. 

In writing, using this type of analogy helps make abstract concepts become more concrete, because it uses the reader’s experiences of familiar objects. 

Word Analogies in Standardized Tests

Word analogies, also known as verbal analogies, are very common in standardized tests, such as entrance exams and job application tests. The analogy shows the relationship between two objects. 

An example of a word analogy in a test is as follows: 

lion : lioness :: bull : cow

You read this sentence as: Lion is to lioness, as bull is to cow. 

This analogy shows the relationship between the first word and the second: the first word refers to the masculine form of the animal, while the second refers to their feminine form. 

When used in tests, word analogies challenge a person’s logical reasoning by leaving one item blank, and the students will have to figure out the relationship between the first two objects on the left and apply the same relationship to the item on the right. For example: 

hammer : nail :: screwdriver : _______ 

To complete this analogy, you first need to figure out what the relationship is between the first two words on the left. In this example, you can see that a hammer is the tool used to work with nails, which should prompt you to think about what works with a screwdriver.

Logically, the answer should be: 

hammer : nail :: screwdriver : screw 

How to Write a Good Analogy 

If you want to incorporate solid analogies in your writing, here are some tips that will help you get your point across in a creative way.

1. Opt for common, easily-understood objects. 

If you want to help your reader understand a concept, make sure you choose an example that is familiar and easy to understand for your readers.

For example, if you want to find an analogy to describe the education of children, it may be simpler to use the analogy of gardening, which most people have some experience with, as opposed to something like boat-building. 

2. Think about similarities and differences between your objects. 

While you may want to use an analogy to show how one item is like another, you should also pay attention to how they are different. Take the opportunity to explain these similarities and differences. Sometimes you may even stumble upon important imagery that you can use as you think of possible connections. 

3. Aim to inspire your readers. 

One mark of a good analogy is that it becomes memorable enough to inspire action. You can do this by selecting a word or picture that will stay with your readers in the long run. 

This may possibly be why the parables that Jesus told in the Bible are very memorable: he made analogies using familiar, everyday objects such as wheat, fishing, and digging for treasure. 

Using Analogies in Writing

Strive to make your communication clearer and more vivid by practicing the use of analogies.

You should also pay attention to clever analogies that you come across while reading; you can copy them down in a notebook for a collection of effective analogies! 

Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!

If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:

Yen Cabag

Yen Cabag is the Blog Writer of TCK Publishing. She is also a homeschooling mom, family coach, and speaker for the Charlotte Mason method, an educational philosophy that places great emphasis on classic literature and the masterpieces in art and music. She has also written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her passion is to see the next generation of children become lovers of reading and learning in the midst of short attention spans.

Eman Ahmed

thank you so much! It was really helpful.

Kaelyn Barron

you’re very welcome, we’re glad you found the post helpful! :)

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A Beginner’s Guide to Sensory Imagery: Types and Examples

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Believe it or not, we all use and read sensory imagery every day. By sensory imagery, we mean descriptive language that engages the reader’s five senses: sight, taste, touch, sound, and smell.

The next time you listen to someone talk about something that happened to them, listen closely to their story. Do they use exaggeration to give you a sense of how something felt or looked? Do they compare a sound to something impossibly loud or soft in a simile or metaphor ? Do they slow down when describing things so that you can put together a clear picture of the situation in your mind? All of that is sensory imagery at work. People use sensory imagery when they tell stories without even realizing it.

Hand in ocean water, sensory

But if you want to write your first book , create a great short story, or even improve your skill as a nonfiction writer, you need to understand more about imagery. In this article, we’ll explain how imagery works. You’ll also learn about the types of imagery that writers use to make their work more engaging to readers.

Last Updated October 2022

Proven methods to unleash your creativity and brainstorm bestselling, high concept book and movie ideas | By Jessica Brody, Writing Mastery

What is sensory imagery?

Sensory imagery appeals to the senses of sight, taste, smell, touch, and sound to create a vivid and evocative picture in the mind of the reader. It is the hallmark of successful writers and poets, and it has been for centuries. If you can master these techniques, your writing will stand out and transport the reader straight into your world.

How sensory imagery works

To better understand how sensory imagery works, let’s read a very short story about pie.

“I like pie a lot. I really wanted to make a pie one day, but I didn’t have the ingredients. So, I went to the store and bought what I needed. Then I went home to make the pie. After the pie was done, I tasted it and really liked it.”

Do you know what happens in the story? Yes. But do you really feel like you were there? Not really. One way we can solve the issue is by adding some details. I could write about what kind of pie I made and list the ingredients. Or I could mention how I got to the store and how long I had to wait in the checkout line. But none of that would help make the reader feel like they were there with me. What’s missing is sensory imagery.

There are two main ways to talk about things that happen. First, we can list events in the order that they happen. This is called a plot in fiction writing or a sequence in nonfiction writing. Plots and sequences are important, but they’re not how people actually experience the world around them. Instead, people experience things subjectively through their senses. And most importantly, people remember their experiences by how they felt. In other words, sensory imagery is how people can relate to events that happen in a plot or sequence.

Let’s look at a sentence from the story and see how we could make it better with sensory imagery:

“I like pie a lot.”

With sensory imagery:

“I love pie. Whenever I smell the sweet aroma of buttery crust and spiced fruit, my mouth waters.” 

Chances are that you can already start to smell the pie yourself and experience what I do. That’s how sensory imagery works.

Why use sensory imagery?

Sensory imagery helps readers join the world of the writer on their own terms. Instead of writing what the reader should think or know, writers use sensory imagery to provide clues about what’s going on. The reader can then make their own judgments and come to their own conclusions.

Remember that new line about that pie with its sweet aroma and buttery crust? Well, if you love pie, then reading that line might make your mouth water too. But even if you hate pie, you’ll react to reading this sentence. You might react negatively, but you’ll still react. Either way, you’re now engaged in my world as a reader. That’s why writers use sensory imagery.

Types of sensory imagery

Most people rely on sight when interacting with the world, so it’s easy to focus too much on visual imagery when writing a story. But when you describe other parts of an experience — how a food tastes or how a car sounds — you really bring life to your scenes.

Here are six common types of sensory imagery that writers use.

6 types of sensory imagery

Visual imagery.

Most writers are comfortable with visual imagery, which includes what you can see. Visual imagery focuses on the physical attributes of an object, person, or scene. Also part of visual imagery are:

Gustatory Imagery

Everyone needs to eat, and everyone has their favorite foods. Gustatory imagery focuses on how that food tastes. As you add gustatory imagery to your writing, remember that there are five basic tastes:

Also, keep in mind that texture is as much a part of tasting as the basic tastes. Examples of food textures include:

Auditory imagery

Auditory imagery engages the reader’s sense of hearing. One way to do this is to describe the sounds (or lack of sounds) of a certain place, person, or object in your story. Examples of this include:

Another way to evoke auditory imagery is to use interjections to show when someone might suddenly say something loudly. Finally, writers can use literary devices such as onomatopoeia or alliteration to create sounds in their work. Examples of onomatopoeia include:

Olfactory imagery

People are sensitive to scents and smells when they remember experiences. But while olfactory imagery can be a powerful type of sensory imagery, it’s also hard to write about. That’s why many writers use descriptive similes and metaphors to appeal to readers’ sense of smell. Writers often compare smells to familiar things such as:

And speaking of food, smell and taste are closely related, which is why gustatory and olfactory imagery use a lot of the same words.

Tactile imagery

Tactile imagery refers to anything you feel through your sense of touch. Most people have certain textures that they either love or hate to touch, and this is all part of tactile imagery. Common tactile sensations include:

Kinesthetic imagery

We can’t exactly feel movement with our senses, but we can certainly perceive movement. Kinesthetic imagery focuses on the full-body movements of people, animals, and things. Examples of kinesthetic imagery include:

Choosing the right words

Of course, it’s not enough just to describe your setting and characters with vivid sensory details. Whenever possible, choose adjectives, figurative language, metaphors, and similes that complement the mood of your story. In “A Game of Thrones , ” George R. R. Martin describes his character with this phrase: “slender as a knife.” Of course, he could have said any number of things to describe his character: “slender as a toothpick,” “skinny as a stray cat,” or “slim as a stick,” but he didn’t. He chose an item that was relevant to his setting: a knife. And in doing so, he subtly reminds us that the fantasy world he has created is a dangerous one. When you’re choosing between adjectives and metaphors, choose one that reinforces the mood and tone of your story.

Sensory imagery tools

When working with sensory imagery, it can help to employ the time-tested rhetorical tropes used for centuries to help create memorable imagery in literature. Here are a few of the most common and most powerful strategies for enhancing your point.

Improve your writing with sensory imagery

Whether you’re not sure how to make your first novel more engaging or just want to improve your writing in general, using more sensory imagery, whether through similes and metaphors or one of the other strategies talked about here, will bring more life to your writing. And if you’re looking to bring your writing to the next level, try a creative writing online course and learn from the most successful writers around the world.

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    Both pairs of words show an identical relationship, that of being opposites or antonyms to each other. Analogies that highlight shared abstraction Another form of analogy compares two items that are unrelated with the purpose of drawing comparisons between an attribute that they share.

  19. The relationship between visual creativity and visual mental imagery in

    To give new insight about the relationship between imagery processes and different types of hemispatial neglect, we assessed different mental imagery abilities in a sample of right- and left-brain ...

  20. Sensory Imagery Guide: Types and Examples

    Sensory imagery appeals to the senses of sight, taste, smell, touch, and sound to create a vivid and evocative picture in the mind of the reader. It is the hallmark of successful writers and poets, and it has been for centuries. If you can master these techniques, your writing will stand out and transport the reader straight into your world.