Descriptive Imagery – A Must When Writing Memoir

Red Formica table

          “On those particular evenings, Rickey, Dana, and I would draw in close around our gray-flecked, red-Formica-topped kitchen table, its naive, gently curving, chrome-plated legs holding our weight as our elbows bore down, giving each of us the added leverage we pursued. We needed to be closer to Mom and to the steaming platter she placed before us. Under the creamy glow of the kitchen light, six accepting eyes took in the uncomplicated joy and radiance emanating from Mom as she sought the simple, albeit little-known and usually wasted, prize this creature offered.”

I hope you found this little excerpt from one of the bio-vignettes in my book enticing.  Hope the imagery made you want to read the complete telling tale.  I promise to post it soon, so please come back for more.  But for now, let’s look more closely at the power of descriptive imagery.

We all know being honest and telling a true story is the basis for writing the Mother Memoir.  But a good story requires more. The key to making it powerfully appealing is to bring your memoir to life using descriptive imagery. The images I’m referring to are the mental pictures you have stored away in your memory banks of a person, place, or thing, whether they are remembered vividly or in a shadowy vision.

Creatively describing the images of characters and events in a story is the means by which a writer can put into words unique and lasting impressions  readers will connect with. When you’re describing images, say in a story about your grandfather, stop and really think about how you are communicating your reflections of him at a certain time, in particular places, and during specific events. Moreover, when you take the time to go through an exercise in descriptive imagery, you’re allowing yourself to revel in depth about savored incidents.

When you’re writing a memoir about your grandfather, ask yourself if you have made him, as well as your time with him, come alive through your depiction of the images you’ve perhaps carried with you since childhood. Have you conveyed to readers, through even a few words or a phrase, the emotional hold a certain memory of him had on you? Or is he coming across flat as a photograph, in a way that doesn’t give his likeness or unforgettable moments the energy they deserve?

Descriptive, creative imagery invites readers into a deeper dimension by showing them what you mean through words; words evoking mental images that allow people to connect on an emotional plane with your characters and the story in general. For example, you could say, “I liked to go fishing with grandpa early in the morning.” Or you could say, “I had been shivering on the back porch for what seemed like forever, when suddenly my heart skipped a beat as I heard grandpa open the creaky wooden door at the crack of dawn, two fishing poles geared up in one weathered hand.” Both of these sentences have the same meaning, but the second one pulls readers into a visual of you and your grandfather at that precise moment you want remembered.

Action is created by your choice of words. You may want to play around with different ways to portray specific images, feel the emotional responses your descriptive images can evoke, and then decide what you will say to achieve the results you are looking for.

There is a side to adding imagery to be wary of, however. You don’t want to overdo it by overwhelming readers with descriptions that take away from your story line. Take this cliché to heart, “…Can’t see the forest for the trees.” Your memoir is the forest, the big picture, so don’t be too effusive and don’t get hung up on describing each tree. You can achieve a balance by including good, emotionally informative images in appropriate places, but not so many that your story itself is lost in the descriptions of too many images or mired in images that are extravagant or overstated.

The Story Woman says, “Use descriptive imagery to write your Mother Memoir now and become a TellTale Soul forever.”


  1. harrison says:

    Nice Post. It’s really a good article. My partner and i noticed your entire important points. Thanks

  2. Pamela says:

    Thanks to you, I am definitely a TellTale Soul forever!

  3. admin says:

    Yes, you are a TellTale Soul Pam! Of the highest order… Thank you!

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