How about a nice helping of evocative?

This particular blog is not going at all the way I had intended.  Initially I thought I’d write about the differences in use of imagery in lyrics vs those in novels but then decided sometimes they are different and sometimes they’re not.  THEN I figured I’d talk about a couple pieces of work and their difference only to come to the conclusion the post was BORING.  So, as the title suggests, I wanted to talk a bit about my preferences and uses of imagery.

First, a definition provided by Merriam-Webster: evoking or tending to evoke an especially emotional response.

From the first page of We the Living, a picturesque description:

Petrograd smelt of carbolic acid.

A pinkish-gray banner that had been red, hung in the webbing of steel beams.  Tall girders rose to a roof of glass panes gray as the steel with the dust and wind of many years; some of the panes were broken, pierced by forgotten shots, sharp edges gaping upon a sky gray as the glass.

What I like about it:  It makes effective use of words.  The rhythm of the sentences is good and the description taken at face value sets a tone for the story as well as grounds the reader in the scenery.  Through more careful examination we might become a bit on edge when our brains register “pierced by forgotten shots”- for it brings to us the scene of a crime, a war.  In truth it’s more scenic than evocative in the emotional sense but it’s good and brings us a picture so terrifyingly real we might feel as though we’re in Petrograd herself.

And here’s a passage which is more evocative than picturesque and, strangely, comes from a piece of dialogue in The Prince of Tides:

“What was your family life like, Savannah?” I asked, pretending I was conducting an interview.

“Hiroshima,” she whispered.

“And what has life been like since you left the warm, abiding bosom of your nuruturing, close-knit family?”

“Nagasaki,” she said, a bitter smile on her face.

:You’re a poet, Savannah,” I said, watching her.  “Compare your family to a ship.”

“The Titanic.”

“Name the poem, Savannah, you wrote in honor of your family.”

” ‘The History of Auschwitz.’ ” And we both laughed.

It is my opinion, of course, that the best stories are told by authors whom can do both:  ground us in they physical environment AND the emotional environment of the characters.  Pat Conroy really does all of it tremendously well-if you’ve ever read The Prince of Tides you know what I’m talking about there.

I can often overlook a lack of balance in these matters if and only if the author manages to do one exceptionally well and the other at least not horrible.  Truly I would prefer an imbalanced story which did credit to the psychology of the characters as well as make me feel what they’re feeling even if I never really felt where they were in space.  Basically, you’ve gotta make me care about the people- whether it’s to hate them, love them or at least pique my curiosity as to what’s going to happen to them- if I don’t care about them I wind up getting annoyed and setting the book down.

What makes you keep reading?  Is it an emotional hook?  A plot hook?  What makes you put a book down instead of finishing it?


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