Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter I




is for Imagery




Imagery refers either to vivid, sensory description in writing or a recurring image linked to themes or symbols.

One example of the latter occurs in Macbeth when Shakespeare uses clothing imagery to show Macbeth is not up to the kingship he has stolen. When Macbeth learns he has earned the title thane of Cawdor he asks,

Why do you dress me in borrow’d robes? (I.ii)

because he has yet to learn of the former thane’s execution. Later in the play, Angus says of Macbeth,

Now does he feel his title hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief (V.ii)

to say Macbeth is not worthy of his title, alluding to his suspicion that he stole the title rather than come by it honestly.

New writers are often told to show and not tell, don’t tell your reader when a character has smiled–describe her face, the curl of her lips, the gleam of her eye, the wrinkles that form around her mouth and eyes.

In Chicken or Egg: A Love Story, Nigel learns of Paula’s death and rushes to the scene. He finds her zipped into a body bag and loaded into an ambulance. He’s told she’s in rough shape by one of the EMTs, but he’s so overcome with regret that he’d never told her of his feelings for her that he climbs into the ambulance and unzips the body bag.

The ambulance’s interior smelled of disinfectant and alcohol, an odour that began to turn Nigel’s stomach before long,..He brushed away a blood-soaked lock of hair from her forehead. It left behind a copper trail. Her skin was pale, her lips and cheeks inordinately red where her makeup had clung in spite of the blood that had left her.

In this example, the reader can recall the medicinal smell of a doctor’s office or hospital emergency room, imagine Paula lying on the stretcher, pale and bloody, hair taking on a reddish hue as the result of a fatal head wound. Nigel’s feelings for Paula are exposed when he ignores the blood caked in her hair to perform one last tender gesture.

What images do you remember reading that stuck out in your mind as a brilliant, sensory-filled description? Have you written any passages containing imagery of which you are particularly proud? Share your thoughts and comments below!

4 thoughts on “Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter I

    1. admin Post author

      Salem’s Lot was amazing. One of my favourite King books. He does do an amazing job of this, doesn’t he? So good it’s made my stomach churn and my skin crawl at times.

  1. Beverly (@Bevimus)

    The show rather than tell rule is something I (sad to say) still struggle with as a writer as I often go inside my character’s heads where they’re observing rather than doing. It’s something I am constantly working on.

    1. admin Post author

      It is something I try to remember (but mostly forget) and usually have to expand upon during the revision process.

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