If you’re a writer or you’ve studied creative writing, chances are you’ve come across the expression ‘Show, Don’t Tell.’
In literature and poetry, this is called ‘Sensory Imagery’ — the use of different expressions and figurative language to evoke a sensory experience in the reader.
When authors use the imagery in their writings, they provide readers with the sensory details to help them fully understand the imaginary world created in the book.
Sensory imagery works by engaging a reader’s five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, and feeling) with concrete details that allows them to create vivid imagery of what is happening.
Through a combination of sensory imageries, authors arm the readers with information that gives them the pleasure of arriving at their own judgements through perceptual clues.
Want to see how?
The visual imagery appeals to our sense of sight. The author uses similes, metaphor, and personification in the descriptions to narrate what he wants his readers to see.
Visual Imagery Examples:
- The deep yellow hues of the sunset drowned in and mixed with the blues of the sea.
- The sunset was the most gorgeous they’d ever seen; the clouds were edged with pink and gold.
The auditory imagery appeals to our sense of sound. It may include pleasant and unpleasant descriptions of sounds. Some authors also use words that imitate sounds to create the auditory experience for readers.
Auditory Imagery Examples:
- The clank of the keys
- The clang of the plates
- Crow of the rooster in the morning
- The chirping of the birds
- Whistling crescendo of the nightingale
- The rustle of the papers
The olfactory imagery appeals to our sense of smell by describing something the narrator or protagonist inhales. It may include off-putting odours, pleasant fragrances, and other familiar scents.
Olfactory Imagery Examples:
- The honeysuckle fragrant lawn lured the insects and flies; I could hear the crickets calling and singing their eerie song of the night.
- The scent of wet soil reached my nostrils and my eyes closed on their own accord.
The Gustatory imagery appeals to our sense of taste by describing something the narrator or protagonist tastes. It’s most effective when the author describes a taste a reader might have experienced before so they can recall it from their memory.
Gustatory Imagery Examples:
- The salty, sweet flavour of saltwater taffy was Carrie’s very favourite thing about going to the beach for summer vacation.
- Joe plucked an apple right from the tree and crunched into it, the tart juices filling his mouth and running down his chin.
The tactile imagery appeals to our sense of touch by describing something the protagonist feels on their body. It may include the feel of different physical sensations, temperatures, and textures.
Tactile Imagery Examples:
- As I tumbled down the hill, the loose rocks raced alongside me, pricking my hands and face like a hundred tiny knives.
- She started to sweat so feverishly that, when she rose from the leather couch, her slippery skin stuck to it like a Command Strip
Now that you have a thorough understanding of literary elements to use in your own writing, it’s time to put your skills to use! The only way to do this is to practice and actually sit down to write.
Need some help? Take a look at this compilation of best writing advice from famous authors