A Picture = A Thousand Words

It may seem clichéd or elementary, but how many times have we heard, “A picture is worth a thousand words?” Writers often can’t use pictures in our work; we have to create them with words. In order to do that, we must draw forth a mental image for our readers to better understand what we are trying to say. For me, eliciting emotion is one way to accomplish that goal.

Many years ago, I worked for a company that sold bottled water and rented water coolers to deliver that water to their business clients. The coolers were able to provide cold water and hot water for different beverages and soups. We sales personnel were urged to use certain words that would conjure pictures in the customers’ minds to encourage them to want our products for their business customers. Hot water became “piping hot water” and cold water became “ice cold water.” We were even told to emphasize the “p” in piping and the “c” in ice to make it even easier to imagine.

As writers, we can do basically the same thing. In my book SHE HAD TO KNOW, I describe a castle in Scotland. The building is early-seventeenth-century, sits off the main road on the edge of a cliff overlooking a body of water, is on a moor with trees spotted about, and the castle is often surrounded by fog. I wanted to create an atmosphere of quaintness, mystery, a hauntingly gothic feel rather than just describe it literally.

This is how I created the picture of it:

Off the Corniche Road amidst vast desolate moorland and gnarled groves of trees stood the often fog shrouded Wraithmoor Castle, an early-seventeenth-century Scots Baronial manor house. Perched on a rocky cliff overlooking the Firth of Clyde, it lay dreamlike, as if a product of Morpheus, a few miles south of the village of Ballantrae.

Another example describes a character who is a famous and elegant mystery writer:

With shiny, blue-black chin-length hair and prominent angular nose, she posed a striking but elegant image. One was reminded of a raven seeking sustenance as her black eyes darted from guest to guest while peering over the rim of her brandy snifter.

The third example describes a trip from the Glasgow airport to the castle:

They skirted Ayr and Alloway, the birthplace of the poet Robert Burns, and continued south toward Maybole and Girvan. The road paralleled the Firth of Clyde that flowed to the Atlantic Ocean. High above, sea birds floated on invisible currants like terpsichorean ballerinas, their distant cries—music for the dance.

These examples use emotion to create the mood of the building, person and scenery in my story.

Have you different ways of using words to describe the pictures in your stories? I’d love to hear your methods or examples.


Filed under blogging, books, Coco Ihle, fiction, musings, writing

17 responses to “A Picture = A Thousand Words

  1. Renee Latty

    I could never come up with such elegant, descriptive, beautiful and complicated (terpsichorean) words as YOU! Must go to my dictionary now!

  2. Nancy Niles

    “A raven seeking sustenance.” Very descriptive and it casts the woman in the light of a predator. Another example from Robert Mc Cammon that I love is: “He had the laugh of a man who had a belly full of steak and money in his pockets.”

  3. Ha, ha, Renee. Thank you. Since I was once a dancer, Terpsichore has been a muse of mine for years. I’m so glad I found a place to use her name. 🙂

    • Renee Latty

      I did my homework……. the muse of the dance, Gk. Terpsikhore, lit. “enjoyment of dance,” from terpein “to delight” (from PIE base *terp- “to satisfy;” cf. Skt. trpyati “takes one’s fill,” Lith. tarpstu “to thrive, prosper”) + khoros “dance, chorus” . Thanks for making me learn my “one new thing a day”! Keep up the great writing!

      • Renee, I salute you in learning a new thing each day. I find that happening whether I want to or not. Ha! Quite a goddess is Terpsichore. Her name is pronounced Terp sic or ree, which sounds musical to me. Love it!

  4. Ooh, Nancy, I love Robert Mc Cammon’s example. Very rich and full. Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment, and thank you for your compliment.

  5. Bob Warms

    your writings underscore your gift for perceptions and fluid ideas that spark the readers imagination!! Keep up the great work!!

  6. Hi Coco, WOW! This is so good and very interesting. Like Renee, I could never come up with such elegant decriptive and beautiful thoughts. I too must go to my dictionary. You have such a strong imagination and emotions. Remember, I have watched you dance many, many times and you were always so beautiful and awesome in your dances. You always came up with such wonderful ideas and you captivated their attention and had them all ready to try to perform with you and they were always so excited to see you. Your decriptions in your book was so good I could see everything in my mind as I read, “SHE HAD TO KNOW.” What a great piece of work!

    • How sweet of you, Frances. What can I say, I loved my dance days! It was mostly because of the wonderful people I met along the way–like you!
      As for SHE HAD TO KNOW, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! It means so much to me when my readers enjoy their reading time. Thank you.

  7. Lovely post, Coco. A reminder how selecting the right elements in description can pull the reader into the scene. Your examples were strong visuals and not overdone.

    • Thank you very much, Sharon. I appreciate your comment. I see from your website we are both in Dawn’s stable. Aren’t we lucky, or I should say, blessed. All the very best to you in your writing projects.

  8. Brenda

    I enjoyed your post and your descriptions. I am rereading “The Night in Lisbon” at the moment and I always love the vivid pictures he draws in words — good and bad.

    • Thank you so much, Brenda. Absolutely! Remarque’s work is wonderful, almost musical in feel. Thanks for reminding me to re-read him. And thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment.

  9. In this world of bytes and such, is a picture still worth a thousand words? A high resolution image can take up two or three megabytes, while a thousand words is a mere kilobyte or two.

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