Unforgettable Image pt. 5: Identification of Meaning’s Roots, Planting Your Own


Today’s post marks the final installment of Lee Stoops series on the Unforgettable Image. He’s had some great things to say, and I hope you’ve found his insights helpful. Next week, I plan to weigh in a bit on what he’s said and how you can incorporate and foster unforgettable images of your own.

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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.

So, 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.

1 thought on “Unforgettable Image pt. 5: Identification of Meaning’s Roots, Planting Your Own”

  • The Unforgettable Image is what makes fiction great. Of course, for fiction to be great, it needs to have that. I’ve read a slew of books that are utterly unmemorable to me because they lacked any sort of impact. So how do you save your fiction from that void of being perfectly forgettable?
    Use these tips. Drag in that emotional impact, and use your imagination. Just don’t get melodramatic, or you’ll lose your audience.

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