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How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: The Eye of Memory (5)

When the eye of the imagination is engaged,
it illuminates the artful possibilities hidden within actual events.
From the hard rock of fact, stone by stone the writer builds a castle
Rebecca McClanahan

Rebecca McClanahan describes the Eye of Memory as a “kind” of Imaginative Eye. When she talks about the use of memory in writing, she goes beyond the mere recollection of past events. McClanahan emphasizes that as writers, we should use the facts and details of our experiences as raw materials that we should transform into a new shape.

If you are a fiction writer, you can transform your experiences by taking an event or experience and “loaning” it to a character who is very different from you. “Hand over the event, no strings attached, and see what your character does with it,” writes McClanahan.

Or, you can take two events which happened years apart and place them in the same story or poem and see how they interact with each other. McClanahan explains, “The interaction between the two events will force you to describe the scenes in new ways.” She continues, “In the interplay between the two moments, your imaginative eye will take over, navigating the space between the two experiences.”

Non-fiction writers can describe two or more versions of one event and write about them in the same piece. You don’t lie about the facts, but you present the facts as perceived by different people. McClanahan points out that “the creative part of nonfiction lies elsewhere, in the way our imaginative eye views the factual world – selecting details, combining and recombining information, and reshaping experience.”


“If description is the flowering, it is also the root and stem of effective writing,” wrote Rebecca McClanahan in her book, Word Painting, A Guide to Writing More Descriptively. I’m reading this book because I meet my Waterloo every time I have to describe something in writing. I honestly feel this makes my writing flowerless. This is such a good book and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to write well. I’ll be using this blog to take notes as I read through this book, so this post is part of a series. I hope you’ll learn along with me.


eye of memory

Photo courtesy of Josh Felise

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: Engage the All-accepting Eye (7) | Writing on the Pages of Life

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