Writing novels, whether they’re plain romance, erotic romance, or even erotica, require mental representations spanning from vivid to subtle ones. More often than not, writers tend to use imagery when explaining actions, events, and backgrounds. Although they use phrases that incite valid mental images, they still take the easy route and employ trite words that have been exhausted by many other romance and erotic romance writers.
Seldom do writers combine imagery and characterization, an action that could convey constant and consistent imagery all throughout a novel. This is a technique that may sound ridiculous at first, but is a practice used in English classes due to its effective push towards innovation in writing and literature.
Writing clichés are not effective – avoid them at all costs!
Is the hero of your erotic romance a volcano, seething and bursting with fury, ready to explode at any given moment? Is your leading lady a vulnerable and skittish being, ready to run and shy away at the first sign of trouble? Let’s even think about using the most basic of elements—earth, air, fire, and water. When writing your characters, do they darken, flash, seethe, or boil when they’re angry? Do they sear and thicken, or even experience lightning or rivers of fire when they’re full of excitement?
When talking about imagery in writing, even the most experienced of romance or erotic romance writers revert back to their worst moments during high school English classes. The failure in translating imagery is severely lamentable, as there is no easier way to characterize a good lead than using a consistent imagery. In fact, how often have you seen this in writing: “His touch was like a hot brand against her skin.” or “Her heart quivered with longing as he stabbed her with his arrow of love.”
Okay, maybe the last one was a bit of an overstatement. However, the point remains the same. Once you put into writing cliché imagery, a cliché story will definitely follow.
A lot of romance novels or even erotica end up having characters that seem like Barbie and Ken. They’re almost perfect—at least physically. There may be a small scar or two that adds to their story arc, but they’re just additions that are a dismal attempt at giving depth to the character.
Picture this: Barbie is a character that needs to learn how to trust because she was hurt before. Ken lost his past lover due to an accident that led to him being in coma, and that’s where he got his scar. Now, she must learn how to trust him and he will struggle in protecting her, thinking that he wasn’t able to protect his last love. I’m just making fun of these instances, but some writers take this arc seriously. What they fail to recognize is that the story arc might have worked before, but a constant barrage of the same thing won’t work for readers.
Adding depth to your characters through subtle imagery and hard work
Now that you know what not to do when it comes to writing story arcs for your characters, what should you do next? What is needed in order to make your characters complex individuals with real problems and real emotions? The answer is fairly simple: hard work.
You may have initially thought that writing with good imagery will save your story, but the truth is it won’t. Hard work through consistent imagery will give it life, as it will deepen your character without overwhelming your readers with a lot of cliché phrases. Having a constant character theme empowered by writing imagery is the key to a successful novel.
As an example, let’s write about a character named Better than Barbie (BTB). What arc should you write for her? What lessons and ideas will she learn as the book progresses? How does her character evolve throughout the novel? If you’re already writing a novel and you still can’t answer those questions, then you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.
Let’s imagine that BTB needs to be able to forgive in order to trust, not just herself but the people who have made her life a living hell. What set of imagery befits a woman who needs to learn how to forgive? Let’s begin with the easy part, the elements of earth, air, fire, or water.
If you want to write her as a religious character, then you can use the image of water. You can insert the idea of baptism—washed, clean, and pure. You can also write her with the element of earth, especially if she’s a solid and grounded character. If she’s quick tempered and fiery, you can use the element of fire—she can lash out and/or inspire. Lastly, you could also go for air.
Air is for the dreamers, the ones filled with mystery, the people who wander in the realms of their own minds more than they do in real life. People written with the imagery of air are a spectrum—then can be brilliant geniuses trapped in the wonders of their minds, or airheads lost in their imagination. If you make an “air” character, use colors that would work for her. Pastels are advisable, colors like light blue, beige, or white. Make her blonde with blue eyes. Make her body seem ethereal. As Not-Ken sees her, make him wonder if she’s the kind of person that will be blown away at the first sign of trouble. Make him ask: is she the one that I need to protect?
Would her eyes darken into a mysterious shade of midnight sky as she grows passionate? Will she exude the aura of lightning and turbulence? Is her laugh light and breezy? As she evolves through the book, her imagery must change too. Her words will flow, her clothing with follow. Now, when you start of looking for other ways to describe her, think of the words that the air, wind, or weather command.
Make your writing flow with imagery
Combining imagery and characterization together gives you a solid and steady pace of writing. Although not every reader will notice a thematic approach, brilliant authors and readers will. This adds to your credibility as a writer. This also cements the evolution of your characters. Therefore, try writing and fusing imagery and characterization, and see it make you a better writer than before.