Years ago, Dad asked me what I thought at the time was a silly question. "Can you see cake on a plate?" He told me to close my eyes and tell me what kind of cake it was, what the plate it was on looked like, and to tell me the flavors. I did. He said then, "Keep your eyes closed. Now change the flavors, the colors, and change the plate."
I was shocked to find that for me, and for him, it was an easy mental exercise. For others in our family, not so. Not at all.
Imagine you have a plate or saucer, some sort of dish in your hand. On that is a piece of cake. What flavor is the cake?
Let's say it's lemon cake, lemon icing. Can you smell the lemons? See the bright yellow of the icing? Maybe there's a slim swirl of real vanilla, a creamy white pattern on the top. Solid orange saucer!
Don't like lemon? How about a chocolate so dark it brings to mind secrets? Let's imagine it's topped with drizzles of cherry topping, fat, bright fruit spilling over the top and down the sides, similar to a cherry cordial candy. It's nestled on a crystal plate, a silver rim around the outside. Crusty, chewy white chocolate brownie on a square red plate? Carrot cake on an antique saucer patterned with pink rosebuds, Appalachian style stack cake still in the iron skillet?
See it, yes. Also smell it, tart lemon or slightly bitter dark chocolate, sweet carrots, or the crumbly goo of that brownie, rich and smooth with chocolate. Know what it feels like on your tongue. Touch the plate and feel the maker's design against your fingertips.
These are the keys to imagery. It makes little difference if you're painting a picture with acrylics on canvas, using a camera to take pictures, or yes, writing a story. I've said it before, and I'll no doubt have to say it again sometime: If you make the beholder homesick and hungry, you're halfway there.
Going from pieces of pastry on serving dishes to anything else is but a shift in gears.Want an example?
In a den under a rock overhang is a mother fox. She's hungry, and her babies need her to go hunt, so they too won't starve.The wind pushes small gusts of wind into the sheltered nook.Inside, it smells of puppy, raw earth, and fragments of dried greenery pushed in by weather or carried in on her coat.
She can smell the weather about to change. Soon, it will get hard to find prey. She rises, leaving the small, precious bundles piled together, bits of loose fur drifting around as the wind forces a shift into her otherwise snug den.
At the opening of the hole, which is several times her own length, she pauses to sit in the sun for a moment before rising to stretch and get on with business. At the foot of the hill, she catches wind of a rabbit track. The scent clings to damp weeds and brush, drifting on the breeze. She catches the scent at a distance, after circling around, a true track still holding a hint of it. Raising her nose, she filters through the heavy array of variables, the very air laden with so many things unseen.
A moment later, she quarters down across a wash and approaches a pile a brush where a tree has fallen and taken several others down with it, across some rocks. Following the scent, she comes to where the rabbit went into the tangle. She licks at a dry branch, pulling a tuft of rabbit hair into her mouth only to spit it right back out, drooling. The scent and taste of hot, fresh rabbit tears at her empty gut.
She digs, pulling crackling branches with her teeth, burrowing in as a chill rain begins to fall. The mist curls around the trees as she works, and hours pass. At last her toenails scrape on stone. She claws around it for a while before realizing she is no closer than before, in truth. The rabbit is safe in its own rocky den, where its heart pounds a rapid tattoo at the sounds outside, and wise to be safe there. The rain is turning to sleet, tapping on leaves and stones.
Shaking off the damp, she licks at her fur, frustrated. Not far away is a blackberry thicket, where mice might be found. Digging around the edges, her eyes shut against the thorns pricking her nose, she finally startles a rodent that dashes out into a clump of dry, dead timothy and clover.
Taking the bowed stance necessary, she waits, and as the mouse peeks out to see if the going is safe again yet, she pounces. Flipping the mouse up into the air, she catches it again, and quickly consumes it whole. An hour later, with three more plump little kills inside, she trots off to her den. It's time to feed the little ones.
The babies don't mind her damp fur, though they squeak in protest at the bits of melting ice. Outside, the storm roils into a horror of ice, trees bowing low against the weight of glittering accumulations. Head on slender paws, she heaves a sigh, enjoying the sensation of infants, well fed, snuggling close, and listening to the wind making bells among ice-encrusted tree branches.
Mice aren't rabbits, but a good hunter can make do. Tomorrow is another day.
And so the imagination may be pondered. Ideas are myriad. Pick one.
Good hunting. Let them eat cake!