5 ways to engage your readers...

through imagery.

image from here
allow your words to really whisk your readers' imaginations away

1.  show don't tell:  the guy was hot vs. the temperature in the room rose twenty degrees when Bentley walked into the room (gag.  NOT, Bentley is a hideous excuse for a man and nobody that jerky could EVER be hot, not even to girls who like bad boys #bachelorette)

2.  use STRONG words, STRONG action words...did the 6 foot tall, built hottie really "walk" into the room?  or did he strut?  meander?  slip into? swagger?  parade?

3.  compareuse similes and metaphors to help your reader understand what you're describing.  use images that they will understand or will that help them get inside your character's head.  help them understand your character's background w/o the heaping info dump!

ERRRRRTTT.  i've come to a screeching halt.  hope you were wearing your seatbelt.  it's come to my abrupt realization this week that novice writers are REALLY GOOD at fine-tuning numero un et deux (1 and 2), but NUMBER 3 needs some work.  NUMBER 3 is what separates the good writers from the phenomenal writers.  (this is all completely and utterly my own opinion that i've held for all of 27 hours now. skip the next paragraph if you disagree.)

when reading unpublished works of my own, or those on online critique sites (from writers who are posting drafts of their first novels), there is something choppy about the writing.  the story is there.  the writing is clean.  description is there. BUT.  there's something missing.  the flow.  the passion. the depth.  advanced IMAGERY.  synonyms and metaphors.  BUT.  not cliche comparisons.  nuh uh. don't do that.


WRITERS, LET YOUR HAIR DOWN.  dig deep within your souls and hearts and let out the inner poets.  NO. i'm NOT a poet.  not by a long shot.  BUT.  it's the unique comparisons in your descriptions that will GRAB your reader and reel them in and mesmerize them and hypnotize them into turning every last page and longing for more words written by YOU with a feverish, desperate need so near panic that they will stalk you on your blog and twitter and email and beg you to write more, more, more!


don't use similes and metaphors one on top of another.  that will spit your reader OUTA the story super speedy quick.

4.  describe more than just physical characteristics.  yes,  readers like to know what the setting looks like and what the characters look like and strong size and color words are very nice and helpful.  BUT.  sound.  taste.  smell.  emotion.  spend time on the parts the reader can't already imagine for themselves.  readers know people and parks and houses.  they don't know what your character gets out of those people and those places.  when your protag meet a new person (character) what do they think about them/feel about them?  what is going on around them?  place your reader in the scene. in your protag.  (when you meet someone, are you ONLY thinking about their height and eye color?  are you in a white, soundless room?  or do you have many sensory things going on all at once?)

this is another novice mistake.  sight is described in detail.  the other senses are ignored.  what smells elicit certain emotions in the character?  what sounds are familiar to them?  when a strange sound occurs, what does that mean for the story?  (notice, i'm NOT saying to just list sensory descriptions.  leave them out unless they are meaningful to the character and the story.)

5.  make your setting about more than just your setting.  make it about emotion.  if your character is feeling jealous, how can you make the setting's description add to that?  does the smoky atmosphere look a little green?  do all the women in the crowd look a little more competetive and vicious than the night before when all was peachy?  is the music blaring a beat that sounds like a racing heart about to speed away from all the tension?

okay.  i'll fess up. this post was inspired by the novels i read this week.  i started reading city of bones by cassandre clare and started and finished the sky is everywhere by jandy nelson.  the comparisons, imho, were amazing.  fresh and unique.  then i read my manuscript and realized why it was a little flat.

NOW.  i brought this up to a writer friend of mine who feels that similes and metaphors are easier to use in third person and not first BECAUSE one has to stick with the voice of the protag.  DO YOU AGREE?  CAN any protag "think"/narrate using similies and metaphors?  or does the protag have to be literary and highly intelligent to do so?  (my words, not my friend's)

i think it can be done.

by any character. 

 and here's why.  i think the "things" the protag compares emotions and physical descriptions and smells and sounds to can add to his/her voice.  just think of how fun it can be to write that!  how would a loner who loves to play the guitar describe a loud, crowded restaurant?  how would a frivolous, hyper girl with her best friend describe the same scene?  what would each compare it to? 

the act of comparing to create imagery doesn't have to define the character, but it can define your writing style.  what/how the protag narrates and what he/she compares descriptions to will define your character...and on a much deeper level than if you don't use this form of imagery!

now.  take your post-it notes or napkins and a pen with you wherever you go and jot down comparisons.  try to get some for each of your senses.  including emotion.  how many similes or metaphors can you come up with by the time you go to bed tonight? 

yes.  i'm a teacher and i now assign homework on my blog.  chop chop writers!

(this is christy.  if you're now scared of my blog posts, you can still come around for erica's....)

i was totally going to provide examples from the two AMAZING books i read, but i've babbled on for way to long at this point and fear i may have lost 75 percent of you. 

(i'm not kidding about the homework btw.  so if you skipped down to this point, you may have to go back up and reread.)


  1. But it's summer!! Okay, fine, I was wondering what to do with this napkin, anyway. :)

  2. Great post! I think any writer needs to use similes and metaphors sparsely. It's when a writer knows how to write with less not more that they leave the newbie stage behind. I do think first person pov can use similes, but again, not very often at all.

  3. Congrats to the winners!!

    Personally, I would think it's easier to work in similes and metaphors into first person than third. Because it's harder to come across as "corny" with a similie when it's a first person character drawing the comparison between two things. We all sometimes have the strangest correlations in our heads and that's what makes us unique..so it feels authentic to have a character think that way.

    Sometimes, in third person, it can sound more like the writer's connection between two things than the characters, IMO.

    Great post!

  4. It's also fun to write how characters react to each other, how a new character or setting or whatever makes the MC feel.

    Great post, but my brain is too fried from late-night writing to do homework!

  5. A great idea for an exercise on metaphors, I'm on it! You make some excellent points. No one wants to read choppy writing!

  6. I think similes and metaphors only work occasionally. A lot of people go that route to show instead of actually showing us what it is. They should be used sparingly and when used, they should also not be jarring.

  7. I very STRONGLY prefer description in metaphorical terms than straight out description. Done well, it creates an elegance that a lot of writing misses. I also agree that using all the senses is great. My first book has a scene where, through dialog, one character tells another to listen, and then says it's going to snow. I was pleased with that... the sound of snow... you Wisconsinians surely know that sound. (or lack... the muffling of all the other sounds).

    I get totally annoyed with OVER description (particiularly visual)--one elegant line can do SO MUCH, where a lot of flowery words tune me out.

    Great stuff!

  8. AWESOME post. Def. one I'll come back to while I revise the mess out of my new WIP. Thanks, girls :)

  9. Description is my weak point! I find I use some of it well & naturally - but it's not enough for my betas/crit buddies. They want to know more - & I always feel awkward adding more than just the basics!

    Off to do some homework!

  10. Oh yes, I totally agree that writing analogies in first person can be done - what a great way to not only describe the scene, but also give insight into the character.

    And I LOVE a girl that fesses up to watching Chris Harrison and his revolving harem. :D I keep trying to get off Bachelor, but then they keep pulling me back in - like this Bentley thing! He just scored himself a free trip to Hong Kong by being a JERK! I wonder what's going to happen. Predictions?

  11. Christy,

    I am very impressed with this post. WELL DONE! You are so write how new writers fall into certain pits. I LOVE #3. But they should be used at strategic points in the plot.

    And I agree with you that any character can spout a simile or metaphor.

  12. Awesome post, you almost lost me :) I love similes and have read some cracking ones in the last few books I've read. If only I coudl think of such witty ones myself. For once I'm grateful for the HW :)

  13. Hi Christy and Erica too. What a great post. I'm actually putting together a list of class ideas to offer as an adult education package and your reminded me of several I had forgotten. So I scribbled away and then thought, I'll just copy the post to a word file so I won't forget again. Of course, having been to multiple conferences and workshops I knew it all but being reminded is a good thing. And no, I won't use your exact words, I just want to remember to include certain things. I'm a perfectionist.

    Sorry I haven't been around much.
    N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium

  14. I accept my homework assignment, and it will probably be good for me (or my WIP). In any case, enlightening post. If I try them in both third AND first person do I get extra credit?

  15. I have to think of this issue about whether I use similes and metaphors in my head. I think maybe I do....

    Me: (internal monologue): Maybe I should take a shower? Let's see (sniff), yes, I smell like my 16yo neighbor's hamper, so yes, definitely need shower.

    I wonder if I do this only because I am a writer???


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