Image management, by Ben Jeapes


Photo by Marina M on Pexels

The Bible is very big on images, and thin on detail.

I’m not talking about the obvious images of parables or visions; I’m talking about the factual descriptions. The key passages, say, concerning the the Nativity or the Last Supper or the Crucifixion or the Resurrection are very bald (e.g. “When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there”), yet consider how much art has been produced depicting them, made possible precisely because the writers don’t lay it all out for us.

This is because the real power lies in our imaginations.

Back in the sixties, the original series of Doctor Who and Star Trek became hugely successful phenomena despite their cheap budgets and wobbly sets, which make a modern audience laugh when they see it now. How? Because it wasn’t about what audiences saw on screen – it was what they remembered after. They saw the models dangling on a piece of string; they remembered epic tales of space and time travel.

In the same way, the Bible gives us enough to plant images in our mind. After that, the real work begins.

And if it’s good enough for the Bible …

Over-explanation is one of the easiest traps to fall into as a writer. Take:

“She walked up the garden path, fished in her pocket for the door key, inserted it into the lock, turned, opened the door, stepped into the hallway, turned on the light, saw the dead body lying on the floor.”

Or:

“She pushed the door open and tripped over the dead body lying just inside the hallway.”

Authors do not owe their readers an explanation. They do owe them enough detail to get the imagination going – and after that it’s up to the reader to do the heavy lifting. If a thousand people read your book then you have created a thousand different versions of your world.

God flatters us with the assumption that we have enough imagination to get what He is saying. Go and do likewise with your own readers.

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of eight novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His most recent title is a children’s biography of Ada Lovelace. www.benjeapes.com

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