Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Psychology of Imagery

It’s established that imagery/visualization helps athletes succeed, so imagine how imagery enhances the reader/writer connection. Even in print, and especially in fiction, a picture is still worth a thousand words. Used deftly, verbal evocation of the five senses creates a world where readers feel what the characters do, see what the novelist does.

Tip: Create not just a plot, but one readers can experience—through their five senses.

Here’s how that works. In The Sacred Wood, T.S. Eliot refers to the pedantic-sounding but not actually overwhelming concept of the “objective correlative”:
The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an “objective correlative”; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked. 
This observation warrants some unpacking. An objective correlative can link (“correlate”) a subjective idea or emotion with the external world (“objective,” relating to something physical, like an object) in a neutral way (again “objective,” but this time in the sense of impersonal).

Eliot introduced the objective correlative to explain why Shakespeare failed to provide a visual image for Hamlet’s emotions. Although many would disagree, the objective correlative strategy has much to offer not just playwrights and poets, but novelists.

In Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, Lisa Cron observes that 
what draws us into a story and keeps us there is the firing of our dopamine neurons, signaling that intriguing information is on the way.
And the more scientists learn how about the brain, the more they discover connections between plot or imagery and reader emotion. Want readers to keep reading? Integrate what happens with opportunity to vicariously interact. The source of  that interaction? Language summoning one or more of the five senses: in other words—imagery. 

Genuinely vibrant description provides additional benefits: 

~ Objectivity.

Concrete details eliminate “telling” what you ought to “show.”

~ Bridge from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

Need to explain something? The technique of analogy or metaphor is about as old as ideas are. Comparison helps readers grasp what’s unclear or difficult, which could be anything from quantum mechanics to the protagonist’s tragic flaw.

~ Contributions from your own subconscious:
one of the things you do as a writer and as a filmmaker is to grasp for resonant symbols and imagery without fully understanding it yourself. —Christopher Nolan
~ Engagement of reader emotion.

Readers identify with what they can see, hear, etc. But they can’t identify with references to “terrible agony” or “delightful happiness.” James Bonnet’s paraphrase of Carl Jung explains why abstraction deprives readers of the protagonist’s world and the events there: 
The auditor experiences some of the sensations but is not transformed. Their imaginations are stimulated: they go home and through personal fantasies begin the process of transformation for themselves.
Why not provide that possibility of transformation for your readers?

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