The Unforgettable Image, Part Five

Here’s the conclusion to Lee Stoops’ great series on The Unforgettable Image. Hope you’ve enjoyed it and Lee, thank you so much! It was a real pleasure having you.

Identification of Meaning’s Roots, Planting Your Ownfor LS pt 5

Think of an unforgettable image. You don’t need to go re-read the scene right now – I’m banking on you being able to recall it. Try to remember as much of it as you can. What was happening immediately before and after? Where does it show up in the story? Why there?

Remember the first time you read it? What was your specific emotional response?


Why was there that specific emotional response? We don’t usually consider this. Go deeper than what is on the page. We usually stop at the page, even if we think we don’t. We imagine something, and it affects us, and we remember it (even if we don’t want to) and we move on.

But if you take the time to consider why these things work for you, map your process through memory and experience, you’ll be able to take this skill, this consideration, into your own writing.

The-Shining-the-shining-30876898-1280-1024So, think about the image again and start digging. What in your memory informed that response?

Was it a sound? A texture? A childhood memory? A loss? I’ll bet you can trace it to something very specific. It probably won’t take long.

Now, go find that printed story and that specific scene/image. Look at the language, the construction, the details printed in and around it.

Think about what the author is doing here. You know he/she considered it.

It is important to think about what we’re writing in this way: it’s not enough to just hope for affect – we need to consider why something can be affective.

Now, think about some of your other unforgettable images. I imagine you’ll begin to recognize a trend. I can’t shake imagery that involves parents witnessing/living through the death of a child. I lost my first daughter.

So, how do you direct this toward something in your writing? Rather, a more important question is: Do you want to?

While the theme of my own unforgettable imagery is often present in my work, it’s not that specific visualization I’m after. Instead, I believe a deeper understanding of the power of why can inform the work. Because it affects me, darkness (what Carl Jung labeled “the shadow”) plays a controlling role in both what I read and write.

I work for unforgettable images that speak to something I fear or lack in my life. What do you write or read toward? Every piece of work you produce should have something you value as unforgettable attached to it. It’s time to go after the why and make it work for you.

The Unforgettable Image, Part Four

Here’s the next installment from Lee Stoops. Been a crazy week, so apologies for the delay in posting!

Building the Case for Changing the Way We Think need to make sense of our perceptions.

Imagination is the core of our human experience. It’s how we build memories and process. I’m not talking about imagination as we often hear about it (cliché). Rather, I mean imagination in how we’re constantly creating everything we think as we think it.

We label these skills as innate, and therefore, forget how impossible it is our brains can do what they can do. We can invent complete realms within the unseen space of our minds just using the things we derive from our perceptions of a shared world. And that’s just the beginning.

If we’ve forgotten anything we learned immediately as children, it’s that we should be giving our imaginations carte blanche. Instead, we listen to critics and doubts and just about every voice we can hear, those in our heads and otherwise, and we lock up our brains up as they age.

We claim we don’t, but we do. We say things like “the more I know the less I know” and think we’re being clever and profound and mature. But what are we really saying?

That we recognize we have trouble using the first tool we ever learned how to use. Simple is sophisticated, here, but we’re so focused on sophisticated, that we forget how beautiful and natural it is and should be to let our minds just go.

As we age, we use our creative capabilities more for easy rationalization or occ

asional problem solving. Somewhere along the line, most of us have started thinking about imagination and memory as a perk of existence rather than the means. They certainly are the benefits – why we love books, movies, art, music.

As we hear all the time – this experience is magic. It’s what we’re constantly after, both in our reading and in our writing. We’re looking for the things we don’t have/know/understand, and we’re trying to make sense of the things we do.

But, think about this – outside our little world of narrative lies a world of problems being solved by imagination.olivier_hamlet3 For example – being able to imagine ourselves in other people’s places is how we gain social relationships and understanding. But it takes knowledge and memory to do this.

Knowledge. Things we know. Things we remember. Things that start to inform our imagination. We hold onto everything, not just for the sake of storing information, but because it enables us to make sense of future experiences, and it gives us the ability to predict outcomes, or, in the case of the impossible, imagine outcomes. We all daydream. Why don’t we give ourselves more credit for what we can cook up?

In the next post, we’ll look at methods of identifying unforgettable imagery in what you read for developing unforgettable images in what you write.



The Unforgettable Image Part Two: The Link Between Imagination and Memory

by guest blogger Lee Stoops:

but I’m such a cute cliché…

 In our generation of images and scenes, we tend to recreate the things that have strongly affected us. I need to note something about cliché here. Something is labeled cliché when it affects (or has affected) a lot of people. The problem with cliché, and why it doesn’t work for unforgettable imagery, is that it doesn’t have power. Because it’s common, overused. Clichés don’t surprise or evoke…anymore.

So, getting back to what we know and how we imagine: There are those few experiences that infect us, the things we can’t forget, especially the things we often times want to. These experiences are deeply informed by both imagination and memory.  So let’s break it down a bit.

Imagination: It has a fundamental and paradoxical dichotomy. It’s sensory, yet exists separate from the physical. Imagination makes hearing possible when there is no sound, remembers smell when there is no scent, makes images available when the eyes are hidden behind the flesh of lids.

But, the purpose of imagination is to provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge. It is the fundamental faculty through which people make sense of the world. It plays a key role in our human learning process.

Imagination, informed by memory, makes it possible for us to create, deepen, and understand the idea of the “other” – something I’m suspect we, as humans, are alone in our ability.

Memory: It is nothing if not imagination. The generation of feelings, both emotional and sensate, past and present, is the work of imagination.

While imagination is the tool with which we tell stories, paint pictures, sculpt statues, and compose music, process our world, make sense (or try to) of everything that happens, and then draw connections, what we’re really doing is forming memories to inform future experiences.

When we write, we use both imagination and memory to develop our scenes, our images.

When you write a scene, whether something you’ve a sense of for a story or something you remember for a personal essay – what happens?

As soon as it’s in words, it sharpens. And becomes permanent the way you imagine/remember it.

We’ve all heard that our memory is our truth. But what’s more? When we take the time to write these things, fiction or nonfiction, they also become our memory – they round memory out, possibly even replace memory.  

In the next post, we’ll dig into the science and how we can use it as storytellers.

so much &*^#$@%( hyperbole!

less is more? whaa…?

Want to stand out with your writing? Or in general? Remove hyperbole from your writing and, for that matter, your speech. Have you noticed that people now seem to be incapable of speaking without it? We’ve become gushers of adjectives, adverbs, and expletives. A touch of hyperbole can strengthen a scene, but if it’s not there for a specific purpose, cut it. If you read the scene aloud and it calls attention to itself, cut it.

too much?

Less is more in these days of overstatement. “I was so f-ing exhausted.” You go beyond exhaustion, you’re probably dead. “No, really, I nearly died from exhaustion.” Did you just finish the Ironman? Then okay. But thanks to advertising, politics, and the entertainment industry, it’s become our standard way of speaking. No one is wrong, they’re diabolically evil. They can’t have a different opinion, they’re horrendously stupid. Along with it, mercy, the benefit of the doubt, even common ground have disappeared (and in this climate, you want to stop bullying? Good luck with that). Once hyperbole becomes the norm, it loses its effectiveness as a device. We get jaded as stories push the envelope further and further. Get simple. Get back to a good story, well-told.

what else do you need?
simplicity is beautiful

If you need a bit of hyperbole for effect in your writing, combine it with a simile or metaphor. Also, use different levels – and that would include zero – of hyperbole in the character voices. Allow your characters different speech patterns. Let the characters be as varied as people in the world. As with any literary device, be aware of what you’re using and why.

Hyperbole done right? The master, as always (from Hamlet, Act V, sc i)


O, treble woe
Fall ten times treble on that cursed head,
Whose wicked deed thy most ingenious sense
Deprived thee of! Hold off the earth awhile,
Till I have caught her once more in mine arms:

[Leaps into the grave.]

Now pile your dust upon the quick and dead,
Till of this flat a mountain you have made,
To o’ertop old Pelion, or the skyish head
Of blue Olympus.

 Hamlet is not about to be outdone – he even says so at the end of his speech later in the scene:

‘Swounds, show me what thou’lt do:
Woo’t weep? woo’t fight? woo’t fast? woo’t tear thyself?
Woo’t drink up eisel? eat a crocodile?
I’ll do’t. Dost thou come here to whine?
To outface me with leaping in her grave?
Be buried quick with her, and so will I:
And, if thou prate of mountains, let them throw
Millions of acres on us, till our ground,
Singeing his pate against the burning zone,
Make Ossa like a wart! Nay, an thou’lt mouth,
I’ll rant as well as thou.

don’t OD with the hyperbole, son

Other Voices Writing Conference

OtherVoices_FlyerNeed to get away, refresh and write? Consider signing up for Other Voices Querétaro

What you get?

  • 10 days of structured activities with your fellow writers
  • 7 days of workshops, 3 hours per day
  • All “Wine and Publishing” Talks
  • Mid-morning pastries and coffee on all workshop days
  • Welcome dinner at Fin de Siglo
  • Walking orientation tour of historic QRO
  • Closing celebration festivities
  • Visit to an artist’s studio in San Miguel de Allende
  • Transportation to the ruins on final day of the program, including “tequila parties” in the vans!

My connection is that Rob Roberge is one of my mentors and one of the very best writing instructors out there. Do yourself a favor. Sign up. Have fun. Wish I could join you!

And pre-order Rob’s next book!

imagine that!

3899_10102616521387013_529553900_nHow good is your imagination? Did you ever imagine riding a moose in a river or lake? Why not? I mean, come on, Teddy Roosevelt actually did it (not photoshopped according to and Life Magazine) and you didn’t imagine it?

Me neither! But then, I would have gone to the hospital if someone shot me. Not Teddy. Campaigning for a third term, he was shot and delivered his campaign speech, bleeding from the undressed bullet hole in his chest. Yeah, officially the most badass President ever.

But I digress.

What about your imagination? What are you doing to nurture and encourage it? It’s a skill, like any other. Visualize, read and analyze fiction (ahem, Annotation Nation anyone?), read things you would never read, do things outside of your comfort zone, take a dare, play with a kaleidoscope, ask questions of strangers outside your usual social circle. Write a story in another genre. Try role playing. Take an acting class. Read Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses. Go outside, lay on the grass or the beach and watch clouds. Play games that involve recognizing patterns. If you train yourself to see patterns, then you can combine things in new ways.

Have fun! And if you have suggestions, please share them. Thanks!

the sin in writing

mantiI’ve been following the Manti Te’o debacle for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that am a Notre Dame football fan and though not an alum, part of the ND family and have friends who are professors there. The truth will out, if not soon, then eventually. That’s usually what happens and my point is not what did he know and when did he know it or whether he was duped or in on it. As of now, besides one statement, he has not come forward. (UPDATED 1/18 he spoke to Jeremy Schaap) I’d just as soon give him the benefit of the doubt until all the facts are in, but right now it doesn’t feel like it will end well, no matter how it plays out. I can see several scenarios – in on it, totally duped, or partially duped, then trying to avoid public humiliation by continuing the story after he realized there was no girlfriend. However, my point is to look at what can we learn from this story – a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story – and how that applies to writing. Coincidentally, the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is “traduce.” 

Someone told a lie and over time a web of lies was created. For a number of reasons, the story blew up. Notre Dame kept winning. That was an unexpected element. Reporters had a talented football player, a nice kid, a team leader with a compelling story and gave him the benefit of the doubt. Some of them scratched the surface – at least one reporter looked for the girlfriend’s obituary and did not find anything. But though no obit is unusual, it happens. Plausible deniability. Could happen. Could a naive young man of faith be so taken in? Well, one of his strengths in football is the kind of focus that doesn’t allow for other possibilities. Just win. Could happen.

mjQnY24-580x386But look at the ripple effect. The original lie, the original impulse to deceive, started rolling, picking up steam, more lies, more deceit, and suddenly it’s all over the news, tabloids, talk shows, breaking out of the sports world to the general news. Seasoned reporters with over thirty years experience say it’s the most bizarre story they’ve ever seen and they don’t know what to make of it. Don’t underestimate the power of shame or the damage of humiliation. Humiliation is a murder of the spirit. People behave in ways that invite a number of different interpretations when shame is involved. And just because you would not feel one way about a given situation, does not mean someone else wouldn’t – slipping into another’s skin is essential to being a good writer.


How does this relate to your writing? Drama comes from conflict. Truth vs. lies. Good vs. evil. Gullibility vs. cynicism. Narcissism vs. altruism. You get the idea. What is your central conflict? How can that ripple out to affect the greatest number of characters? What’s the unexpected element beyond anyone’s control? In the Te’o story, one lie mushroomed and affected not only Te’o, but his family, his teammates, his coaches, the University, the fans, even the way sports reporters will cover the human interest angle going forward (which is sad because the last thing we need is more cynicism).

white-roses_1920x1200_15316Sin has gone out of fashion. It implies a divine intelligence, a moral standard. I’m not here to debate that. I do argue that having a moral viewpoint will make your fiction stronger. The best definition of sin I’ve heard is that it begins with treating other people like things and lying is foundational to that. When you wrong someone, when there is conflict, often it begins with a lie to the self or to another. Someone who plays the “catfish” game, who creates a deliberate deception, may do so out of vanity or thinks it all in good fun and no one will get hurt, or worse, that the deceived person deserves it for being gullible. Think of the pedophile – they lie to themselves that it won’t harm the child. The thief lies to himself that he’s justified in taking what does not belong to him. What do your characters lie to themselves about and what are they lying about to others? Do they treat others as things? Does it all escalate? Add the element of surprise and watch it ripple out in your fiction. And please, keep it to fiction. Don’t muck up real lives. As to motive?

5 ways to help authors; 5 things for authors to avoid

ImageSeveral times this past year, I had people ask how they could help me with my books. The first question I asked was whether they’d bought any of them.     No.      Well, there’s a start! You want to help an author, buy their books. Forget all the fancy posts on book marketing – there’s some helpful information, but the main way to sell books is by word of mouth. That is what I’ve heard consistently from publishers, agents and other authors. Word. Of. Mouth. You like an author, please tell other people! Buy their books as gifts for your friends. Spread the word, use social media, post it on Facebook, Twitter, put the book cover on Instagram. If you know a photographer who’d take a good author photo in exchange for credit and building up their portfolio then pass along that information. You don’t have to come to every single reading, but show up once in awhile and bring someone with you. After the reading, say something nice to the author, even if it’s just “Good job!” (thanks, Kate!) It is hard for people who spend most of their time alone with imaginary people to get up in front of a group and read. Say something nice to them – acknowledge what they did.

There’s a ton of noise that we have to break through, so anything you can offer in the way of help, support, networking is GREATLY APPRECIATED! (and if it’s not, a pox on that author!) We writers are largely an awkward bunch who often don’t know what to ask for or how.

Summary for if you know a writer:

1. Buy our booksImage

2. Tell others

3. Post kind reviews (they don’t have to be 5 star, but there’s no need to trash them either; if you don’t have something nice to say…)

4. Use social media to spread the word

5. Come to our readings once in awhile

Okay, writers, you are not off the hook. It’s tough out there and you want all the help you can get. But don’t be a narcissistic taker! Say thank you. Help other writers. There’s none of that fixed pie nonsense in this. There’s plenty of publicity and readers to go around. If someone helps you, say thank you! I know you’re socially awkward but, come on, two words. Too shy to say it in person? You’re a writer, write a thank you note. No excuses. Again, don’t just take. Someone does you a favor, acknowledge it and at some point, if you can, return the favor. Especially if it’s another writer. Be nice to everyone – if you knew what secret burdens people were bearing, you’d be nice to everyone, even the mean ones. Maybe especially them. Plus you never know who someone knows. Word spreads. True in the literary world, super true in Hollywood. A manager never bothered calling me back over a business matter – I took notice because it was rude and totally unnecessary. He also made his client look bad.

I’m not saying you have to get all tit-for-tat about it. A favor is a favor, not an obligation. Don’t keep score. Do your best. Have integrity.

If you give readings, practice. Be entertaining. Put some life in it. People have taken time out of their day so make an effort. If you have to get a coach, make friends with an actor and get some tips (you can offer to run lines with them or something similar in return). Film yourself. Show your audience some respect. This falls under the same consideration as making sure your manuscript is as good as you can make it before you send it out.

Something Kate Maruyama pointed out is the Acknowledgments page and I’m going to include one in my books from now on. Seems to be more of a tradition in non-fiction than fiction, but there’s no reason we novelists can’t do it. None of us get there on our own. People help whether they read our manuscripts, provide moral or financial support (we should all be so lucky!)… anyway, you get the idea. Proclaim them! Do an Acknowledgements page and list them. Maybe you don’t have an agent or manager yet, but there are other people who helped and encouraged you along the way.

Pay it forward. Help other writers. Promote their work. Don’t ask people to go comment on your short story, essay, etc, if you have no intention in doing so for them at some point or haven’t in the past. Don’t keep going back to the same people every time you put a piece of writing out into the world. It looks like you’re manipulating the comments (fair point) and everyone’s busy. You can tweet or Facebook general requests, but be careful of asking specific people. Don’t over-ask and let it go if they don’t respond. Yes, I’ll say it again: everyone’s busy. Assume goodwill and move on.

Summary if you are a writer:


1. Say thank you or write a thank you note

2. Return the favor

3. Be nice and if you can muster it, entertaining

4. Put them in your acknowledgements

5. Pay it forward

going deep

spiral-galaxy-ngc1232-1600Why do you write about what you write about? What images or feelings stay with you after reading a story or watching a film? What genres resonates the most with you? Horror? Thriller? The life of the mind or the heart? Mystery? Romance? What feelings or images stick with you? Do you know why? What is it in your own life that has happened for those to be the ones that stick?

As 2012 winds down, I would invite you to take some time off for yourself and by yourself to ask the big questions of life. Why are we here? If you have a faith tradition, reread its scriptures. Read some philosophy. Read the book of a faith you do not belief in or follow. Challenge yourself. Think about your beliefs. Take some time to mull over what is important to you and why.

It is easy to follow the news, to stay informed, and feel like that is enough, but if you are creating art, it is not enough. You may be informed, but there’s no depth to it. And with so much information available, it is easier than ever before to remain on the surface, to be busy, distracted.

To deepen your thinking and therefore your writing, to add something meaningful, requires a strategic drawing heic0402aback to ponder, to wonder, to take the time to think. I don’t think there is a simple straightforward connection between this time and what you may write, but as artists we need to pull back from time to time to think about why we create. I do believe that over time, if you make this a regular practice – and the time is of course up to you from daily to annually – there will be a change in your writing. More resonance. More depth. More wonder.