Using Imagery in Creative Writing

Eleven-Plus Preparation Specialists

When considering imagery, we need to understand the two main types of imagery. These are literal imagery and figurative imagery. You should be able to use both whilst crafting your creative writing piece. Remember – it’s not just about using metaphors and similes.

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Literal Imagery

Literal imagery is describing what you see – or what you imagine – with simple, literal, descriptions. Of course, that doesn’t mean they have to be too simple. Let’s look at some examples.

‘The sky was blue.’ This is an example of literal imagery. We can imagine what the sky looked like, although it is not a particularly inspiring description.

‘The red sand blew around him, darkening the sky until it was darkened, blue becoming orange, orange becoming maroon.’ Nowhere here have we used any figurative descriptions, yet we have painted an interesting image for the reader, and created a sentence that will involve them and draw them into your scene.

Of course, imagery doesn’t have to be sight – it can be smell, sound, taste, touch. Therefore, other examples of literal descriptions could be:

‘The day smelled nice and sweet.’ Again, this is a boring description, although we do get some idea of what the day may have been like.

‘The sweet fragrance of flowers drifted past him, and the lavender scent rose in the air all around.’ Like we saw with the visual example above, it should be clear from this that you don’t need to be constrained to simplistic sentences just because you are using literal imagery.

In fact, trying too hard to over-use similes and metaphors can lead to clunky writing that is harder for the reader to engage with, and that will advertise that you are very much trying to ‘tick boxes’ rather than writing from passion and true ability. As such, practising your use of literal imagery is vital to doing well in the creative writing section.

Figurative Imagery

It’s likely that when you think of imagery, you’re thinking of figurative imagery. Let’s look at the four types of figurative descriptions.

First are similes. This is comparison using as or like. An example might be, ‘the ground was a vivid red, like blood flowing.’ These are perhaps easier to use than metaphors. You should make sure to always include at least one simile in your work, but as mentioned above, avoid over-use for the sake of it.

Next are metaphors. A metaphor is comparison without using as or like. Examples (drawn from literature) could be:

‘Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life’
‘Chaos is a friend of mine.’

Clearly, art cannot wash away literal dust, and nor is chaos someone’s literal friend. Metaphors can be harder to deploy than similes, and you should therefore practise using them. A good metaphor could be more impressive to the examiner than a simile. Try to include at least one in any piece.

Next is hyperbole. This is an exaggeration. An example could be, ‘as far as I knew, my father was the strongest man in the world.’ Another example could be, ‘I’ve had to sweat buckets working down the mines for this family, and now you expect me to just give you your rent money?’ Hyperbole can be used to add some colour to your descriptions. They won’t be expected as much as similes and metaphors however.

Last is personification. This is giving human characteristics to things that are not human – be they animals or plants. This can be a brilliant tool for bringing an animal character to life, or painting a vivid picture of a scene. You will often find the elements (wind, rain) personified, or the sun. A typical example might be the ‘sun smiling’ or perhaps the ‘sun beaming.’ We might also consider a bird that ‘played a brilliant tune with its voice as its instrument, conducting an orchestra of its fellow avians.’ Evidently, birds do not conduct, nor do they have orchestras – and in fact they do not play tunes. As such, we have superimposed human characteristics onto the birds.

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You should be aware of each type of imagery, as you will need to deploy them but may well also be tested on them in the initial sections. Remember not to focus too much on them to the detriment of your narrative, but instead to use them in a way that adds to it and helps your reader see, hear, or feel your creation.
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