Captivating your audience as a writer can be fairly difficult due to a number of factors, including the topic of the piece, the attention span of the reader, and most importantly, the style of writing. An effective way to attract readers and inspire them to continue reading is writing visually, and by that I mean creating images within the heads of those reading simply through your choice of words.
A definition of “good” visual writing would be painting mental pictures in your audience’s minds without them even realizing you are doing so. In order to engage your readers, they’ll want to be able to see the action taking place in their heads. However, don’t have the mindset that bigger is better. More action, violence, or drama in general doesn’t necessarily translate to visuality. Focus on the detail of every scene in your narrative. This includes things like the set, symbol, and characters.
The line “It was nighttime when I awoke.” gives little insight as to what the character is actually seeing in that moment. As the narrator, imagine yourself in that position, and expand on what could possibly be seen. This line could convey much more visuality if it were to say “I awoke to a dark room dimly lit by moonlight, with shadows cast by the items on my desk next to the window.” Already the audience has an idea of what that room looks like, and can put themselves in that position.
Symbols and motifs are also great ways to further describe each scene. The items on the desk mentioned above could be better detailed depending on the mood. If this is a horror story for example, the character could describe seeing the silhouette of a doll standing on the desk casting a shadow, when the doll was previously on the floor before he or she fell asleep. Or, if you would prefer to be a little less obvious, the doll could be a recurring theme that symbolizes a specific thought the character is having about another character in the piece.
Another aspect of visual writing to consider is the depth of emotion that you wish to channel in any given scene. Things to play off of can include the focus of a specific image, duration, already connected emotions, and the genre of the piece. For example, in a dramatic play, describing a moment where the main character is looking at a picture of his or her deceased father, and going into great detail as to what he or she is seeing, feeling, and hearing in that instance can perpetuate the anguish of the piece.
It is important to remember that images are subjectively interpreted. Asking a large group of people to describe a tree for example, will result in possibly hundreds of variations. The same can be said when asking that group how a specific image of a tree makes them feel. Some may react positively, while others react negatively. With that said, it is not an easy task composing a picture that you want to convey one single emotion, but focusing on that picture with words that give emotional context can help.
While stories are typically comprised of a beginning, middle, and end, it’s the scenes in between that build each. Visual writing is vital in establishing characters’ motivations, the theme, and the plot as a whole, and could spell the difference between a subpar story, and a great story.