The Importance of Visual Images as Illustrations for Writing and Other Communication

You may have never really considered it before, but the image on the above poster is what catches your eye. I have an experiment for you. How impressed are you with the following comment:

I Want You

I dare to say that the previous sentence is not very impressive to most people.

Let’s try it again. Let’s try it in bold:

I Want You

That is still fairly unimpressive. Let’s try the words as a quote:

I Want You

Well, at least I see the words now. The words are separated from the rest of the text. Let’s try bolding the words, putting them in a quote

I Want You 

With every added action on the words, we make them more noticeable, but nothing that we do to the words alone will make the same impact as the poster does with the image of Uncle Sam.

Now, let’s see how much better the impact becomes with the addition of color and the increasing of the font size:


Dr,\. Lynell Burmark said the following about the importance of images:

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” Dr. Lynell Burmark, Ph.D. Associate at the Thornburg Center for Professional Development and writer of several books and papers on visual literacy, said, “…unless our words, concepts, ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain, and go out the other ear.”

Whoever controls the media—the images—controls the culture. – Alan Ginsberg

Considering that Alan  Ginsberg was a poet and an author and not a photographer or visual artist, this admission from him speaks volumes. 

The Uncle Sam poster was released in 1916, and its purpose was to motivate Americans to support the war effort. That poster is still powerful today–100 years later–and its importance does not lie in the words that it provides. The power lies within the image.


On October 1, 2016, I am launching a Free writing class, but much of the value of that class will be learning to develop a better visual response.  I’ll spend time in that course talking about writing descriptively, and I’ll introduce writers to Rebecca McClanahan’s excellent book Word Painting.

Descriptive Writing stands out to me. I have posted a couple of times about books in which Laura Ingalls Wilder has written descriptively, and the opening lines of Bridge to Terabithia  are what captured me about that book. That is an excellent example of quality descriptive writing.

 Something Wicked This Way Comes

First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren’t rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say. Take September, a bad month: school begins. Consider August, a good month, school hasn’t begun yet. July, well, July’s really fine: there’s no chance in the world for school. – Prologue Something Wicked This Way Comes.

I heard the above passage at the beginning of the movie Something Wicked This Way Comes, and even though everything else about that scene was also working beautifully, it was the word–the outstanding description–that seized me.


You can read more about Word Painting Here, and we’ll discuss it in greater depth, beginning October 1, 2016. Here.

Before October 1, 2016, however, I want to spend time making sure that everyone recognizes the power of images. [When I write, I actually close my eyes and see what I am writing in my head, and then I merely describe what I see.]

To add punch to my argument, I want to share how images make a huge impact on the viewer in the following video, which is a scientific report and not a creative piece.

Savory’s tone of voice is important in the above video, and writers also have ways to establish the proper tone, but within seconds of beginning his talk, Savory begins to share a succession of images; and the images are of utmost importance.


At the 55 second mark of a video that is 22 minutes and 19 seconds long, Savory shares a full screen that serves as an illustration of the problems that are plaguing what he says are 2/3 of the world’s surface. I did not hear him say it, but I feel sure that it affects more than 2/3 of the world’s population. Although I was half-heartedly listening to Savory before I saw the photograph, it was the image that captured my interest.


Savory uses an image to illustrate the area of land that is not in danger of desertification. He adds that the areas that remain humid will not dry, but he says that areas that are only sometimes humid are in danger of desertification, and again, he makes this point with an image.


Afterward, he shows an aerial map that demonstrates how much of the world is of concern. [The brown areas are of concern.]


Just to be sure that you got that point, he circled the areas on the map. Once more, the image makes the argument.


To illustrate that a lack of rain is not the only problem, Savory shows two photographs that were taken within a day of each other.


Following is the same spot one day later.


Savory says that we are told that the grasslands areas are in no danger of desertification, but he shares an image that shows how the grasslands will appear in a few years. In sharing that image, he stresses the reality that desertification is a greater problem than people are told.


He says that the grasslands already have a “cancer” that, in its final form, will be terminal. In using the term “cancer,” Savory is using strong rhetorical language, but until this point in the video, he has relied heavily on images to make his points.

To engender pathos in his listeners, Savoy tells how at one time scientists believed that killing elephants would solve the problem of desertification in Africa, and he goes on to say that they killed 40,000 elephants. That is definitely a moving point.

In telling that at one time, killing elephants was believed to have been scientifically indicated, but that recent studies have now disproved that thought, Savory uses kairos or the timeliness of the study.

Over the course of his presentation, the viewer understands that Savory is an authority in his field, and in that way, he uses ethos. And because his arguments are organized and thoroughly explained, Savory uses logos. I would have to say that Savory has utilized all of the rhetorical tools for writing, but in my opinion, his point would not be the same without his images.

I can say with certainty that I would not have listened to the above message. The images were essential to gain my attention.

If a scientist elected to make his scientific presentation more graphically appealing and communicative through images, consider how much greater the importance of images is in creative writing–even in creative nonfiction.

I say it over and over and over again: “A picture is worth 1,000 words.”

©Jacki Kellum July 24, 2016



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