Imagery in fiction and non-fiction

Home learning focus

Unpick how imagery is used to create meaning in fiction and non-fiction texts.

This lesson includes:

  • two videos to help you understand different techniques writers use for imagery

  • three activities.


Descriptive language is used to help the reader feel almost as if they are a part of the scene or event being described.

Description is useful because it helps readers engage with the world of the story, often creating an emotional response. It can help a reader visualise what a character or a place is like.

There are a number of literary techniques that can make descriptions more vivid and creative, we call this imagery.

In this clip WWE wrestler Seth Rollins runs through some common techniques that writers use to create imagery.

WWE's Seth Rollins talks you through some descriptive techniques


Listen to this reading of 'Exposure' by Wilfred Owen.

A reading of 'Exposure' by Wilfred Owen

Look at the opening line of the poem below. Owen uses two metaphors to help us imagine the suffering of the soldiers.

Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knive us...

Below we have pulled these metaphors out into a table.

Note down the impact that each of these has on the reader.

'Our brains ache'
'the merciless iced east winds that knive us'

Consider this exam-style question. How does the writer use imagery to show us the conditions that the soldiers are subjected to?

How might you answer with your examples above? Try writing two short paragraphs using your notes from the table.

Activity 2

Now it’s your turn to identify the imagery Owen uses.

Read through the rest of the poem here

Your task:

  • go through the poem and identify the similes, metaphors, words and phrases that help us visualise the conditions the soldiers find themselves in
  • create a table like the one above and complete it with the quotations that you have identified

Activity 3

It’s not just writers of poetry and fiction that use imagery to describe scenes.

Read the extract below from an autobiography.

For some time the Rose-beetle Man would turn up at the villa fairly regularly with some new addition to my menagerie: a frog, perhaps, or a sparrow with a broken leg. One afternoon Mother and I, in a fit of extravagant sentimentalism, bought up his entire stock of rose-beetles and, when he had left, let them all go in the garden. For days the villa was full of rose-beetles, crawling on the beds, lurking in the bathroom, banging against the lights at night, and falling like emeralds into our laps.

The last time I saw the Rose-beetle Man was one evening when I was sitting on a hill-top overlooking the road. He had obviously been to some fiesta and had been plied with much wine, for he swayed to and fro across the road, piping a melancholy tune on his flute. I shouted a greeting, and he waved extravagantly without looking back. As he rounded the corner he was silhouetted for a moment against the pale lavender evening sky. I could see his battered hat with the fluttering feathers, the bulging pockets of his coat, the bamboo cages full of sleepy pigeons on his back, and above his head, circling drowsily round and round, I could see the dim specks that were the rose-beetles. Then he rounded the curve of the road and there was only the pale sky with a new moon floating in it like a silver feather, and the soft twittering of his flute dying away in the dusk.

My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell (1956)

Identify and make notes on the techniques the writer uses for imagery. You could create a table like the ones you made above.

Then, using your notes, try writing a response to the question: ‘How does Durrell use language to describe the Rose-beetle Man’?

Once you’ve done this, check this page from BBC Bitesize, did you spot everything pointed out?

Where next?

In this lesson you have learnt about ways writers can use imagery to create vivid descriptions.

There are other useful articles on Bitesize to help you to understand writers' language choices.

Please note: Bitesize revision guides are split by exam board - to check if there is a specific version of a guide for your board, choose your subject and then exam board here.

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