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The Arresting Image

I'll start this lesson with a question: what do you do as a writer, when you are struggling to put across a theme which is perhaps too abstract for your reader? How do you make this theme acceptable to the senses? I'll tell you: a good writer can devise a type of image unlike any other we have studied so far, called the arresting image.

Think for example at the feeling of despair. How would you describe it, or even simply write about it, integrate it in your writing so that your readers can relate to it without having to stop their reading to think about your words? How would you do it smoothly?

In a less gloomy situation than the one pictured above, let's see how Andrew Marvell deals with just about every abstraction you could think of - I'm talking of his majestic poem "The Definition of Love":

               Magnanimous Despair alone
               Could show me so divine a thing,
               Where feeble Hope could ne'r have flown
               But vainly flapt its Tinsel Wing.

Also notice how for Marvel and poets of that time all nouns are proper nouns, i.e. names to be honoured with a capital letter.

The arresting image applies to all genres

Perhaps unlike you might think, the arresting image is not the exclusive property of poetry. It could be used in plays as well as prose. Let's consider an example from a novel by one of my favourite writers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I'm talking of "On Hundred Years of Solitude":

"Then they went into Jose Buendia's room, shook him as hard as they could, shouted in his ear, put a mirror in front of his nostrils, but could not awaken him.

A short time later, when the carpenter took measurements for the coffin, through the window they saw a light rain of tiny yellow flowers falling. They fell on the town all through the night in a silent storm, and they covered the roofs and blocked the doors and smothered the animals who slept outdoors. So many flowers fell from the sky that in the morning the streets were carpeted with a compact cushion they had to move them with shovels so the funeral procession could pass by."

Is it the case that you had to stop after reading this passage and wonder at the image that came to your mind? Or perhaps you had to wipe a tear off...

That kind of writing is called arresting and you could do it as well, if you had the image formed in your head clearly and then applied disciplined practice in choosing and polishing your words to reveal it to your readers and stir their feelings in the process.

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