Every idea can be expressed through an image, and every image has a natural and organic connection to several other images.
Let’s say you’re writing a novel. As a seed image, you think of that neighbor kid who lived around the block when you were nine years old; you take the kid, and you turn him into an alien ranger who rides solo through the galaxy in his tired blue space jalopy.
Let’s say, for the sake of experiment, that you’ve made an outline that shows the alien ranger discovering a hidden moon full of treasure, and then using it to buy a brand new model ZZ spaceship and a pair of venomous tiger beasts.
Now, you sit down and try to decide how you will describe the old blue jalopy. You may stare at the screen, and feel overwhelmed.
But here is what you will do:
Start with that neighbor kid that you’re basing your alien ranger on. Picture to yourself his messy hair, and the stinky way that he had of wrinkling up his nose when he talked to you.
Imagining the picture of this kid will bring one or two additional images into your mind, by the power of association. Let us say that you think of old pieces of orange peel, and the smell of fertilizer. It does not matter if these associations make sense to you; what matters is that they are a prime connection to the first image.
Now you have the image of the neighbor kid, the hardened wrinkle of shrunken orange peels, and the nagging odor of earthy fertilizer.
You start with the first image:
Argon was sitting in the deep bucket seat of his rusted-out blue spaceship; (so far we have used the image of the neighbor kid) the interior of Argon’s ship was dusty, and had that particular flavor of age and neglect that comes to a vehicle when it is no longer worth the trouble of repairing. (Now we have drawn on the image of the dried orange peel.) Argon had thought, occasionally, of stripping the blue ship down, and of repairing it, and polishing it into respectability, but the metal panels on the outside were so eaten away with rust, and fitted so poorly against the body of the ship, that he told himself it was not worth the trouble. He had thought, also, of taking the ship to one of the sleazy dealers that dotted the outer rims of the known galaxy, and of trading in his jalopy and a few years of his life to put a down payment on a better ship, but, Argon had reminded himself, he only had one life, and the blue jalopy still ran, kind of. Argon had remembered then what that man in the Waroo quadrant had said to him, about the life-draining machines in these dealerships being fixed against the customer.
“You think you’ll be trading a few years of your life for a square deal,” the man, Ixxus, had said to Argon over a pat of steaming worm gatz. “But you don’t know what is really going on in those life-sucking pods. I heard they’re set up to put tracers in your blood, and when you leave the dealer’s lot, the dealer sells the code for the trace to the marauders from the Blood Spiral. Those marauders will hunt you down, and sell you piecemeal, to the cannibal systems. It happened to my brother-in-law. He went to one of those lots, and put down five years for a new Y Chantz cruiser, and do you know where my brother-in-law is now?”
Argon had stared with expressionless eyes at Ixxus, who dipped his fingers into the worm gatz, and paused with the steaming mash held up in the air.
“He’s vanished,” Ixxus had said wisely, and then sucked the earthy, fermented gatz of worms from his fingers.
There; we have now used the neighbor child, an old orange peel, and the smell of fertilizer to build a coherent chain of events and images. Following the links from the boy to the peel, and from the peel to the fertilizer, has given us a secondary character, a set of dangerous marauding villains, a system of cannibal species, and a technology that apparently allows people to make large purchases by giving up years of time in exchange for material goods.
The story feels authentic, and unstudied. The reader is drawn into the organic sensations caused by the linked images. I, as the writer, did very little work, and you, as the reader, now have firmly planted in your heads a set of concrete and memorable images.
Start with one image. Plant that image in your novel, and follow the natural links from that first image towards the next image, and the next. Doing this will make your writing taste good and feel real to the reader.