“A picture is worth a thousand words” is one of those old adages that holds true. It might seem skewed in favor of painters and photographers, but before you declare me a traitor, hear why it’s true for your writing as well. Fiction and nonfiction.
Think of your favorite book.
Now think of the most beautiful, well-crafted sentence in that book.
No? How come?
Because by and large, even the most lyrical of sentences won’t be remembered. An attentive reader might pause and reread the line to savor it (and bless him for doing so), but the odds of it sticking in memory are slim.
Sure, there are a few exceptions. The most iconic sentence in American literature is…go on, tell me—from memory—and I’ll share it with Word Essential Writers next week.
My vote for the most iconic sentence in American literature is “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” That’s the closing line of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, of course. But how many sentences of cultural magnitude can you name?
Let’s go back to your favorite book.
Think of the most powerful image within that story.
Of course you do. Instantaneously.
One of my favorites is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I’m sure the text is full of beautiful sentences, but I can’t recite a single one. Ask me about a favorite image, however: At the beginning, the family is packing to move to the Congo for a year-long mission. They are only allowed one suitcase per person. So, the mother and daughters wear all the clothing they can layer on their bodies. They even fashion belts out of ropes and hang things, like fry pans and utensils, within the layers of their skirts. The image of these girls struggling down an airplane aisle, sweating under all their clothes, their skirts clanging with cookware, is indelible.
As a writer, the greatest gift you can give your reader is also the thing that will make your work memorable: a remarkable image. So, mind the old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and you’ll craft scenes your readers will remember for years after they close the cover on your book.
What about nonfiction?
Everything I said about imagery above applies to nonfiction as well. Think of the latest nonfiction book you read. What do you remember about it? I’ll bet the parts of the book that got you fired up and stuck with you are the parts that evoked a mental image. The image might be part of an anecdote or case study. It almost certainly involves a human being and either triumph or defeat.
Empathy is one of the most powerful tools in your writer’s toolbox. Make your reader feel for that character or case study. Help your reader picture herself that character’s shoes. And then several things are more likely to happen in the reader’s mind:
• your how-to becomes possible,
• your reader becomes inspired,
• your trust quotient rises,
• your book becomes memorable.
A memorable book is a book that gets recommended, functions well in a product funnel, and adds authority to your name.
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