Imagery in writing is one of the most gorgeous things a writer can produce; it is what exhibits the true skill with words that a writer has. If I can make you see something just by reading about it, I have done more than my job as a writer. Being that it is a coveted ability, a highly prized skill, and one of the most effective means of enabling the reader to envision something in their mind, imagery is one of the most important things we can do with our writing.
Imagery can make you see something that isn’t there. Really, imagery is a vivid description that places is the reader in the surroundings of the context of the story. It transports the reader into the life of a third-party character of your story, making them a part of it and allowing them to experience it firsthand.
That being said, imagery is often abused, as some of the more vulgar, crass, pleasure-driven stories are written by authors capable of high levels of imagery. It is a skill to be prized, but it is a skill to be wary of. In the wrong hands that kind of power with words can seriously harm someone’s mind. Not only can it affect them subconsciously and scar their way of thinking, but it can also affect them spiritually.
But who is responsible?
Can we really hold the writer on the witness stand simply because he/she wrote their best? Simply because they tapped into every ability they had and utilized their skill to bring their story to life. Is it their fault what the reader may then take away from the story? Are they to be held accountable for the descriptive nature of their writing, even had they not intended it to bring about that effect?
Or, conversely, is it the readers fault? Was their mind so polluted, so perverted to begin with that the words they read, the descriptions came to life for them. Was it their mind that was already so bent toward the evil and wicked that they saw something in the words that wasn’t intended to be there. Is it their fault for approaching the writing with the wrong attitude, and their perspective tainted the way they viewed what was being related?
Was it the publishers fault? What good is quality control if it can’t omit potentially harmful material from a story? And, having the ability to do so, should the publisher choose to leave those descriptions and those scenes of imagery in the story, would it then be their responsibility, the effects that those particular elements have upon readers?
We could blame it on sin, we could blame it on the pain and suffering in the world, we could blame it on the past of the author or the difficulties that the readers have had in their lives that all caused everything to come together in such a way so that no one was technically responsible because everyone was responsible. We could do that, and we could feel vindicated of ourselves that we don’t bear the blame for how we got our guilt. However, we still have the guilt. The guilt for what we think and what we do doesn’t go away simply because we can justify it being there.
Just because it was someone else’s fault that I did what I did or I thought what I thought doesn’t get rid of the effects of what I did or thought.
Passing the blame may make us feel better, it doesn’t erase what we did, and the writer is fully aware that they used imagery for that purpose. There is a small level of guilt to the conscious writer, who care about their readers and the effects the writing may have, and there is an amount of guilt to the reader whose mind takes them to dark places because of what they read.
In the grand scheme of things though, had the writer never wrote it, regardless of their intentions, there would be no responsibility given to the publisher whether or not it was right to include or disclude the information; there would also be no responsibility upon the reader for what they imagine based upon what they read. Ultimately, through everything it all falls back on the person who started it: the writer.
The tricky part
How far do you take that?
Because personally, as a writer I can come very close to saying something, I can come very close to describing something, I can even have a good intention behind it, but am I still responsible for what the reader thinks based upon what I wrote? Even if it is to emphasize a point, even if it is to make a truth of God known to someone, are my methods antithetical to my message?
Can we hold a rider accountable for his words and not his intentions? Can we hold a reader accountable for his perception? The bottom line is if you do not write it, they will not have the chance to misunderstand it, to think things they should not, to missuse your imagery.
We are responsible, we who know what we’re doing, we who are in the position to influence others, we are responsible for everything we say: both that which has a positive effect on our readers and that which may have a negative effect. Remember that as you write, attempt to stay always above reproach if nothing else, integrity once lost is lost forever.
As always, thanks for reading.
–the anonymous novelist