image via Tutordoctorofwny
I had the good fortune to take a poetry writing workshop with Dr. David C. Berry in the fall of 1992. During the first meeting of that course, he laid out the first stanza of Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” on the chalkboard like so:
Nibblin’ on sponge cake
Watching the sun bake
All of those tourists covered with oil,
Strumming my six-string
on my front porch swing,
Smell those shrimp, they’re beginning to boil . . .
Then he explained (persuasively) that the reason “Margaritaville” is fun, and memorable, and popular, is because the stanzas contain an image in every line (and even the chorus has that “lost shaker of salt”). I’ve put the images in bold; he underlined them.
He told us we needed to do only 3 things to get an A in his workshop:
- Turn in a poem per week;
- Give the other poets in the course civil and constructive comments on their work; and
- Include an image in every line until he told us we could break that rule.
I followed the rules because I wanted the A, and I wanted to improve my writing. Sixteen weeks later, the poems I was producing were more mature, more sophisticated, and above all (judging from the comments I was getting on them) more readable.
If your goal is to give your readers an experience – to transport them, or to engage their emotions – it helps to give them things to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell.
I am not saying you should use this like a formula for everything you write; but I am saying that if you spend one day a week for a couple of months focusing specifically on improving the use of sensory images in your work, your writing is sure to improve.
If you already know this trick and see it as basic stuff, I do hope you are sharing it. 🙂