Rachel Swearingen lecture – OCWW 2/28/19

Rachel Swearingen – The Magic and Mechanics of Imagery

Rachel was a very charming speaker.  Imagery is something I struggle with more than I think I should.  I was a poet back in the day (way, way back in the day, like high school), and my writing still carries some of the poet in me.  Not in blog form, though.  Please don’t think I’m thinking this is poetic.  

She started the lecture talking about the color wheel of writing.  If I knew how to embed a graphic right here, I’d do it.  For now, I’ll just describe it.  There are six aspects of writing included:  characterization – plot – diction – imagery – theme – point of view (POV).  Imagine them as points on a wheel (kind of like a clock).

Diction includes dialogue, syntax, and rhythm of the written word.   The rest, I hope, are self-explanatory.  

Each aspect of writing contributes and abuts the rest.  Each supports or doesn’t support the rest.  All writers have strengths along a continuum for all of these aspects.  Most have one that they rely on to do the heavy lifting in their work.  Where craft comes in, is how we can manipulate and modulate the wheel.  

Since the lecture focused on imagery, Rachel talked about how writers can find patterns of images in their own work.  Our adorable subconsciouses tend to do much of this work for us.  But once we find the images, once our conscious minds see the pattern, we can enlarge it, adapt it, shape it.  We can break the pattern or expand it, make it more complicated and rich. 

Fun exercise:  You can take a section or body of work and print it out.  Circle all the instances of images.  What do you see?  What themes or objects appear multiple times?  Once you notice, craft what you’ve done to make the images say something on purpose.  

Not sure what to do with the images you’ve found?  No idea how to expand a set of images?

Fun exercise 2:  Take one image (example:  sky).  From that root image, come up with 6-7 images that you associate with that image (example:  clouds, planes, sunsets, birds, stars, mountains).  From each branch, think of an image that you associate with that (example (clouds): angels, storms, tornadoes, flying, cotton, dreams).  And on and on we could go.  In theory, these images will naturally have a link.  Nifty!

Other takeaways:  

You can use images to move in and out of time and for transitions.  

You can steal the structure from a work you admire and apply it to your own. 

We spent some time on some exercises and having Rachel breakdown images in three different works.  My favorite was Stuart Dybek’s short story Pet Milk.  It’s a wonderful story.  Here’s a link, if anyone is interested in reading it.  It’s pretty short:  


Imagery isn’t something I really considered concentrating on, especially in revision.  I might tweak an image or try to find a better one, but I never considered systematically studying and shaping what I’d already written.  It’s something I’ll have to consider in the future. 

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