Guest Lee Stoops on The Unforgettable Image

It is my great pleasure to have a series of five posts by the super smart and talented Lee Stoops.

Lee Stoops

Part One: What is the Unforgettable Image in Story?

Curiosity killed the cat? Well, curiosity got the cat to that place. But, maybe it was deficient imagination that killed the cat.

Imagination. Are you sick of that word yet? Me, too. The problem is, we’re not seeing everything yet.

How do we consider imagination? Or, do we consider it? I think we tend to take it for granted, or, worse, misunderstand it. I’ll make the same claim of memory, as, for humans (and especially writers) the two are mostly interchangeable. Before we get there, though, let’s define the reason for the discussion: The Unforgettable Image:

This is a moment or detail from a work, usually a scene (though it can be in shared in other ways) that affects us through visual imagination in a way that is impossible to forget for the way it burns into or festers in the mind.

dinoThese are not just interesting images, not just evocative images, not the ones that get us thinking about things and saying, “oh, hey, that’s keen.” Unforgettable images in this discussion are the ones you can’t help but immediately know, can’t help but think about or forget, even if you want to.

These experiences are subjective – what’s unforgettable to me might not be to you. There is no universal here. However, understanding the kinds of things that render themselves unforgettable in what you read, and why, is at the heart of how you can begin to make certain parts of your writing not just effective, but more important.

Think for a moment – it’ll only take that long – to consider all the material you generate in your imagination while reading and writing. You can probably put together a totally detailed setting instantaneously. A lot of it? Details you can’t stop your brain from remembering.

You use a universal sense of reliance on concrete visual warehousing to create scenes that will start to work at other people’s memories (and eventually emotions). For example – if I write dead bird, what happens?

You picture one. It’s different than the one I’d picture, sure, but it’s a dead bird. That’s not my point, though. My point is: You can’t stop yourself from picturing one. Your mind, if you’ll forgive the cliché, has a mind of its own.

It’s how we work. We’re constantly cataloguing the details, whether we’re aware of it or not. It’s a survival tool. We, as storytellers, use it to an even greater advantage. We are curators of observations for the sake of recreating something we cook up in our heads in the heads of others. And our goal is something that those other heads won’t be able to dump.

In the next post, we’ll begin to explore about how it all works.