An Exercise in Imagery

Dreigiebelhaus (three-gables-house) Am Laien i...

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. As my gift to you, I’d like to share a fun exercise to create unique imagery.

Sometimes I find myself getting stuck using the same descriptions and phrases in my writing. Especially in poetry, it loses that pop. One of my favorite exercises to get out of this rut is one I learned in high school.

1. Come up with a list of common adjective/noun combinations. Since it’s the day after Christmas, I’m going to choose some season appropriate terms. The more you come up with, the better a chance you’ll get an awesome description out of this. I like to come up with 10-12, but for teaching purposes I’ll do six. Adjectives in green, nouns in red:

white Christmas
evergreen tree
falling snow
slick roads
gold rings
hot cocoa

2. English: Six dice of various colours. 4-sided ... Now choose a number. Any will do as long as it’s not a multiple of the list you have. Since I have six items, I would not use the number six. You can use virtual dice to give a random number, or roll an actual die. Since I have six phrases, I’ll use a regular die and re-roll if I get a 6. I rolled a 4.

3. This number is the shift number. Leave the adjectives where they are, and shift the nouns down the number rolled. Christmas would shift down 4 to match with gold. My resulting list:

white snow
evergreen roads
falling rings
slick cocoa
gold Christmas
hot tree

4. These are now your prompts! Use any that inspire you in a poem or story. As you can see, some combos are definitely better than others. White snow isn’t very original, but evergreen roads excites me. If you get a dud, and none of the results speak to you, pick a new shift number.

Another variant: write a bunch of adjectives and nouns on pieces of paper, and put them in separate bowls or bags. Mix them up, and grab one from each. A grab bag of inspirational imagery.

Here’s my poem inspired by the above. I have the start of an evergreen poem, but ended up on a tangent and wrote this one instead.

What color is your Christmas?

White with snow
and frosted branches?

Blue with longing
for romances?

Mine is one of gold
as I snuggle down with slick cocoa
and listen to the joy around me.

A child’s laughter making
all those purchases worthwhile

The Carol of the Bells
echoing like falling rings

And at the end of the day
the family gathers round
to watch a movie

As a child I never could have known
Mothers have the best Christmas,
with memories of gold.

 

For another example, see my very first poem written using this technique.

I’d love to see the poems you come up with, using either my list or one of your own.

Next time on Mary’s Expression: A book review.