What is Imagery?

What is Imagery

Use of words and phrases that appeal to the senses—sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste.

Imagery helps you paint pictures in a reader’s mind.

Why Is Imagery Important?

There’s nothing quite like the human imagination. Even the greatest movie scenes and visual effects fall short of the creativity of the theater of a reader’s mind.

Imagery can transform words on a page into compelling, memorable scenes in the mind.

Used wisely, it can help you:

  • Grab your readers’ attention
  • Transport them to a different world
  • Make them forget they’re reading


  1. The rancid stench of refuse rose as a cloud over the dump.
  1. The child’s laughter broke through the silence of the stuffy study.
  1. Leaves crackled under the legionnaires’ boots.

Types of Imagery

1. Visual


  • Jim marvelled at the starlings flying in dark flocks.
  • “The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave a luster of midday to objects below...” — from Twas the Night Before Christmas
  • Soot covered the father as he carried his son from the burning house.

2. Auditory


  • Thunder rumbled in the distance.
  • The pops of the kernels rang through the kitchen...
  • Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is!  — Alka Seltzer commercial

3. Olfactory


  • Pumpkin and cinnamon wafted down the hall.
  • The smell of the saltwater replenished him as he swam.
  • The smell of coffee woke her.

4. Taste


  • Her lips puckered as the lemon touched her tongue.
  • Cotton candy melted in his mouth.
  • Eggs Benedict overwhelmed her tastebuds.

5. Tactile


  • The smooth stone felt cool to her palm.
  • He ran his fingers through her hair.
  • The smooth silk swallowed Rita as she melted into the bed.

6. Motion


  • The bus ride tossed him around in his seat.
  • He flipped through the air and splashed into the water.
  • The fishing lure bobbed as fish nibbled the bait.

7. Emotional


  • Guilt riddled his conscience.
  • Her face flushed.

Techniques: How to Use Imagery in Your Writing

1. Show, Don’t Tell

Telling informs your reader rather than allowing her to deduce things.

Showing allows your reader to deduce details.


Telling: She could tell he had been smoking and that he was scared.

Showing: She wrapped her arms around him and smelled tobacco. He shivered.

Telling: The temperature fell, and the ice reflected the sun.

Showing: The air stung Bill’s nose. He squinted against the sun glaring off the ice on the street.

Telling: Suzie was blind.

Showing: Suzie tapped a white cane in front of her as she walked.

I wrote an in-depth guide on this topic that you can access by clicking here.

2. Use Powerful Verbs

Action verbs, as opposed to state-of-being verbs, trigger the theater of your reader’s mind, offering them an important role in the unfolding of the story.

Here’s a list of 294 powerful verbs with examples you can use to enhance your writing.

3. Avoid Passive Voice

Write in active voice to lend your writing power.

Many writers struggle recognizing active vs. passive voice, but if you can remember this, you’ll start getting a handle on it:

Find and replace most of your  state-of-being verbs (is, am, are, was, were, etc. —  Google a list and print it) and often the word by.


Passive: The party was planned by Jill.

Active: Jill planned the party.

Passive: The wedding cake was made by Ben.

Active: Ben made the wedding cake.

Passive: The Little League team was given trophies by the coaches.

Active: The coaches gave trophies to the Little League team.

Click here for my detailed guide on fixing passive voice.

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