Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Converting Your Imagination into Words

"Don't fool yourself: Read what is actually on the page, not the brilliant unwritten story in your imagination."
~ Philip Gerald

It's easy to come up with a story. Anyone can do that. But the stories that could play to a reader in their head are the ones that get published.

So how are authors able to put their imagination into words? I've learned that it's not easy. At all. In fact, it's what I'm struggling with most right now. It's difficult for me to explain things to people, which is odd, considering writing is what I want to pursue most in life. But you can't write a novel unless you're planning on telling a story to someone, not to yourself. What I mean is, as I'm writing my manuscript, I see it in my head the way I want it to be - but the reader may not interpret it that way. Your readers aren't going to be able to experience the amazing story you have created unless you allow them to experience it. But how?

Here are a few things I keep in mind when trying to "put my imagination into words":

  • Read it out loud. Pretend like you are someone just reading
    your story for the first time. Does it make sense? What's missing?
  • Make sure that your characters are introduced. Don't just assume that your reader already knows all about your protagonist before they read your story.
  • Have someone else read it. Ask them how they see the story, and if it's not the way you want your readers to interpret it, then go edit or rewrite. It's worth it!
  • Include enough imagery. As I mentioned in the previous post, setting details are extremely important for your reader. They won't be able to see what's happening unless you give them something to see!
  • Include sensory details. When you play the scenes through your mind, what do you hear? Smell? Taste? See or feel? Write it down.
  • Have your readers feel your protagonist's emotions. If I just told you that Mary was sad, that doesn't put you to tears, does it?
  • Make sure your scenes flow. If the scenes are choppy, then you're most likely telling, not showing.
  • Don't rush your scenes. This is the main thing I'm struggling with. It's easy to hurry with the scenes that I write since I know what's happening and what will happen next - but it's so important to avoid this! Rushing your novel means you're telling, now showing. Don't just imagine and tell your scenes, show it through your pages.

Remember, have your reader watch what happens, not be told what's happening. Let them experience the journey for themselves.

What are some ways you make sure your reader will see what you see? Comment and let me know!


  1. These are great writing tips. Everything you wrote in this post..I need to work on it. I really love all these superb posts on your blog.

  2. Tessa, you've cut right to the heart of the things a writer must learn to do well. Even now, with four pubbed books under my belt and at least twice that many MSs lurking under my bed, I still struggle with each of these at various times. Great post!

  3. Tarissa: I'm trying to finish my manuscript by the time I go to a conference in May, so this is what I'm most struggling with right now also. I now see why so much time goes into writing - it's not something you can just complete even within a month. Unless, of course, you're telling the story instead of showing. :) Thanks for your comment!

    Cynthia: I've learned that writing is much harder than probably what most people think it is. There's so much to think about while writing, editing, etc... but you just have to trust God and start writing. You'll never get anywhere without faith and perseverance. :) Thanks for commenting!

  4. Write first. Ask questions later.

    I think the important thing is to get out of your heart and mind everything that you want to say first. Then, like a sculptor, work with your piece to smooth out the rough edges, find the artistry in what you are trying to convey through the conventions you have set out above and refine, refine, refine.

    Wonderful post as always.

  5. Excellent tips. The story on paper is never going to be an exact replica of the one in our heads, mostly because the one in our heads isn't words so much as pictures and emotions. But the more adept we become at writing, the closer our written story gets to our idealized one.

  6. Just popped over from a mutual friend's blog! It's so encouraging to see a young person pursuing God with such fervor! Although I write devotionals and not stories, your tips for writing are awesome! Looking forward to getting to know you. I'd welcome you to check out my site at your convenience. Have a blessed Easter!





  8. Great post.
    Rushing scenes, that's an issue I've had problems with. Once I thought I had written an awesome scene of my MCs fleeing through a burning city while pursued by their enemies. When my friend read it, he said it was shallow, rushed, with little detail and left no impact.
    While writing it I had seen everything in my head, but failed to record much of it on paper.
    I went back and rewrote the whole thing, and now it reads as I saw it.

  9. Great post, Tessa! I struggle with rushing scenes, too. I'll be so caught up in the action/suspense, I'll sum up the entire scene in a few paragraphs. Oops :)

  10. Tessa,
    You have a nice place here. I am editing a short story this morning and I will take your tip on introducing the character to heart. I tend to just get into the action but now see how the character is less interesting when the reader knows nothing about him/her. And thank you for the follow!

  11. K.M. Weiland: That's so true, the story in my head is always emotions and pictures, which is why it's difficult to relay those scenes on paper. But the more you write, the easier it becomes. :) Thanks for your comment!

    Maria I. Morgan: Thanks! I will check out your blog. :) Happy Easter to you too!

    Ron: Thanks for your comments! I hope you have a wonderful Easter also. God bless!

    Peter Stone: That's why it's hard for me to write the first draft, because that's when I just write what I see in my imagination. But the revision, rewriting, and editing is what eventually turns the scene into what I first imagined it being. But as James Michener said, "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter."

    Mia: Thanks, Mia! That's exactly how I am. Sometimes I wonder if my scenes would be more real if I write-as-I-go, so I wouldn't have to rush through my scenes in order to complete the last chapter. Thank God that first drafts don't become the final story, though!

    Lynn: Thank you! I love your blog also. :)

  12. Carrie @ comfortedbyGod.blogspot.com

    I stumbled across your blog--love your writing tips. Ive definitely discovered the struggle between telling and showing (its difficult isnt it?). Its very easy for me to tell, but it takes TIME to show. So, Im learning to slow down, take the time to explain, describe, depict, explore...so the reader can truly hear my heart. Still learning though!

  13. Good advice. Reading aloud has always helped me with perspective as well.

  14. Carrie Cooper: You're exactly right, the reason some people (such as me) have a hard time with showing is because it takes time. Especially when you have an outline you just want to rush to the last chapter. Thanks for commenting!

    Slamdunk: This helps for me as well, and also when I read to other people they help me recognize my mistakes. Thanks for your comment. :)

  15. I usually don't have a problem with this, I write what I see happening in my mind and I try and describe what's happening as best as I can. It seems to work cause people really like my stories, but maybe thats just because I am a story-teller, or weaver in this case.
    I probably race through scenes though :/


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