Posted On February 26, 2014 by Print This Post

IMAGINE THIS…Part 1 Imagery and Characterization, can the two ever meet outside of an English class? By Jade Lee

I discovered JADE LEE‘s books thanks to my good friend Keri Stevens, who “blames” Jade for introducing her to romance.I had the pleasure of meeting Jade Lee at RT in 2010 and at Duffy Brown’s Mystery Party the following year, where we were all in character and somewhat dressed for our parts. It was a memorable experience, both times!

Jade Lee and Keri Stevens at Duffy Brown's Mystery Party, June 2011

Jade Lee and Keri Stevens at Duffy Brown’s Mystery Party, June 2011

Is your hero a volcano, seething with fury and ready to burst at any moment? Is your heroine a skittish crane attempting to fly far, far away whenever trouble startles her? How about something more basic? Earth, air, fire, or water. When they’re angry, do they darken, flash, seethe, or boil? When they’re excited, do they thicken or sear, experience lightning or rivers of fire?

Talk about imagery and even writers roll back to their worst high school English class. That’s unfortunate because there is no easier tool for characterization than using good consistent imagery. How many of us have read something like this: His touch was like a hot brand against her skin. Her heart quivered with longing as he stabbed her with his arrow of luv. Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. Cliche imagery for cliche stories.

So many romance novels end up with Ken and Barbie characters. Physically they’re perfect, emotionally they’re perfect–except for their one scar that is the focus of their arc. Barbie needs to learn to trust because she’s been dumped before. Ken lost his last girlfriend to a fire because he was a coma at the time therefore it was all his fault and he now has to protect the world from its own stupidity. I’m making fun here, but romance readers know how the same emotional baggage in the hands of one author is farce in someone else’s.

So how do you make your characters deeply emotional people with real problems instead of Ken in a coma? Hard work. Ha! You thought I was going to say imagery. No, good imagery will not save a stupid book. But consistent imagery will deepen your characters and–here’s the good part–keep your themes in your head from the beginning all the way through to the end of the book. Yup. Since writing is HARD WORK, anything that makes it EASIER WORK gets a thumbs up from me.

Raise your hand if you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about. Think of your heroine. For this example, we’ll call her Better Than Barbie (BTB). What’s her character arc? What does she learn through the course of the book? How does she change? If you can’t answer that, sit down and think of an answer. You can’t write a credible book without it. Remember, the answer could be that she doesn’t change. Despite everything, she remains rock solid in her beliefs.

Great, now BTB has a character arc. Let say BTB needs to learn to forgive, not only herself for her bad choices but her Mother From Hell who set her up with the Fiancé from Hell complete with the Family from Hell. Okay, what image best fits a woman who needs to learn forgiveness?

The_Grooms_Gamble (1)

Let’s start with the easy part: earth, air, fire, or water. If she’s a religious character–water. You can use all that great baptism, washed clean, purified imagery. If she’s a stable character, grounded in her location or family or her job–then go with an earth concept. If BTB is quick tempered, someone who can either lash out or inspire–go with fire. Lastly, air. I chose air for the dreamers, the mystics, the people who wander around in their brain rather than the world because they’re either brilliant (genius academic) or lost in their imagination (airhead creative…i.e., me).

Let’s go with the airhead creative. She’s an air person. Therefore colors that work for her would be pastels–light blue, white fluffy clouds. I’d make her a blonde with blue eyes that can grow really pale when she’s off day dreaming. Her body type is ethereal, ephemeral, and when Not-Ken looks at her, he wonders if she’ll just be blown away by the troubles of the world. She is the kind of person that all heroes want to protect.

When BTB becomes passionate, her eyes darken to a mysterious midnight sky. Her passion is surrounded by words like lightning, turbulence, and electric sensations–all those things that are associated with weather. Her happy laugh is light and brightens everything around her. Her ironic, snarky moments have a crisp snap to them. Now all of a sudden whenever you write about BTB, you have a whole slew of words to latch onto. She’ll walk lightly instead of with a heavy tread. She’ll float through a room instead of cut or stomp or glide.

Now think of her problem and start including words that demonstrate that. First scenes will include one or two words that indicate her need to forgive: stagnant, stuffy, choking, distant, maybe even dizzy. But as she moves through the book–especially in moments that reveal change–her imagery will change too. Her words or clothing will flow, her touch will feel like a benediction or the sun finally coming out. Learning to forgive will feel like a gentle spring rain that cleanses rather than punishes.

Sadly, no one but another brilliant writer will notice your imagery set. At least not on a conscious level. It’s all subconscious, but it helps create a unified feel for your characters that will flow (or drift or root or burn) through your entire book. And it helps you remember that BTB starts out as an air head but when hanging out with Not-Ken, she gets more grounded, and yet he appreciates the lightness to her spirit. Maybe she cools his volcano fire.

For more on consistent imagery sets, wait for part 2 or check out Jade’s novels. Then e-mail her with your guesses as to what imagery she chose for whom. Win a prize if you get it right!


An honest love…

Radley Lyncott has been in love with Wendy Drew as long as he can remember. When he went to sea, she was too young to court. Now that he’s returned to take up his Welsh title, he is appalled to find that debt has ruined the Drew family, and—even worse—Wendy is being courted by another man.

Or a dangerous attraction?

Family comes first for seamstress Wendy Drew, who is forced to settle her brother’s debt by working nights at a notorious gambling den. But her double-life hasn’t gone unnoticed—she has captivated none other than Demon Damon, a nefarious rake who understands Wendy’s darkest desires and is hell bent on luring her into his arms.


How would you describe your heroine and her character arc?

Join us tomorrow for a special Thursday feature: Part 2 of Jade Lee’s post on Imagery and Characterization.



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A USA Today Bestseller, JADE LEE has been scripting love stories since she first picked up a set of paper dolls. Ball gowns and rakish lords caught her attention early (thank you Georgette Heyer), and her fascination with the Regency began. And as a Taurus, she lives to pit a headstrong woman against a tortured hero just to watch them butt heads on the way to true love. Flesh wounds are rare, but the healing and laughter are real.

Now an author of more than 30 romance novels, she finally gets to set these couples in the best girl-heaven of all: a Bridal Salon! This way she gets to live out all her wedding fantasies, one by one. (Let’s be honest, what girl has only one idea for her dream wedding?) For more on the Bridal Favors series, visit Jade on the web at her website, ” and on Twitter.

Jade Lee (far left) and a bevy of authors at RT 2010

Jade Lee (far left) and a bevy of authors at RT 2010

And don’t forget Jade’s other name, KATHY LYONS. That’s Jade’s lighter, contemporary side. She writes for Harlequin Blaze merging hawt sex and funny relationships into really great reads.

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16 Responses to “IMAGINE THIS…Part 1 Imagery and Characterization, can the two ever meet outside of an English class? By Jade Lee”

  1. Jade – Thank you so much for joining us today! I was first introduced to you and your books by Keri Stevens – she never steers me wrong!

    Thanks so much for these fabulous posts – part one AND part two, which will be posted here tomorrow. (YES, you read that correctly – we have a special THURSDAY post this week!)

    I’m eager to read your upcoming releases as Jade Lee and Kathy Lyons!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 26, 2014, 8:41 am
  2. P.S. Is it your birthday today? I noticed several birthday messages on Twitter, so assuming they are correct, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 26, 2014, 8:44 am
  3. Morning Jade!

    I love your imagery theory….=) My heroine is very grounded with her job and family, very practical, very down to earth. (She’s an earth, if you haven’t guessed already!) She learns to stand up for herself, she learns to say NO. (even if it’s still done politely). How do I make her not seem like a “plodder” while she’s still being practical?

    looking forward to part 2!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | February 26, 2014, 9:11 am
  4. Great post! I’ve never read about using the four elements as ways to describe characters and their arcs, and it’s a great device…and giving me ideas for my own writing…Thanks!

    Posted by G.G. Andrew | February 26, 2014, 10:13 am
  5. Dangit, gonna have to print this post of yours out, especially for revision phases when I’ve used “limpid pools” one too many times. Which may, in fact, be once.

    I think you’re absolutely right about imagery being one of those things that the reader shouldn’t “see” in your writing.

    And ZOM-gee is my current heroine Earth. The hero is totally, totally water, however. And now I want to drag out my raggedy old Tarot deck and read for them both!

    Off to play in the book (and thank you for that!)

    Posted by Keri Stevens | February 26, 2014, 6:14 pm
  6. Good article. The air/fire/earth/water concepts are a great start for getting us past the old cliches. I think they would make for good writing exercises as well.

    As someone with an advanced degree in English (a.k.a. as a big English nerd), I *love* imagery and am happy to see it discussed here! I’m looking forward to your next post!

    Posted by Nina | February 26, 2014, 8:15 pm
  7. Hi Jade!

    My heroine is a control freak who gives up her career to return home to care for her orphaned nephew. She’s forced to confront family issues and situations she knows nothing about, like raising a child. While her previous world was very results-oriented, there’s no measurable indicator on her ability to parent. Her beliefs change when she realizes that raising a kid is more rewarding than a corner office and a six figure salary. I’d say she’s earth in the beginning.

    Great to have you with us!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | February 26, 2014, 9:58 pm
    • If she starts as a results oriented control freak, that makes me think of a controlled fire. Steady burn, directed intent. So I think of her more as a metal. Or fire who has put in place strict controls. When she is thrown into a situation she can’t control, that’s like a fire raging wild or dying for lack of fuel. Probably both at different points in the book. So the hero would either be water to cool the fire, or earth to control the fire. Air would be more villain or ex-boyfriend because it would just make her rage out of control.

      Just my off the cuff thoughts.

      Posted by Jade Lee | February 27, 2014, 4:05 pm
  8. I think most of my heroines are “Earth”, which means I’m probably putting too much of myself into them. I love your suggestions and I’m excited to use them in my revisions. Thanks for opening new channels of creativity!

    (And sorry about the mistaken birthday wishes. Happy Un-birthday to You!)

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 26, 2014, 10:41 pm
  9. Thanks so much for responding to our questions and comments, Jade. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and Part 2 of your post!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 26, 2014, 10:42 pm
  10. Love the photo’s in this blog. I agree that the deeper we make the characters, the more the reader will relate to them. Also like we change and learn in real life, it makes our characters more authentic if they also do so throughout the book.But i guess I would say that because I am also a therapist!

    Posted by Sherry Marshall | February 27, 2014, 12:41 am


  1. […] Lee wrote a great post on imagery in characterisation. Apply this to a fight scene and watch it come […]

  2. […] IMAGINE THIS…Part 1 Imagery and Characterization, can the two ever meet outside of an English clas… Jade Lee on Romance University Blog about using imagery to deepen characterisation. […]

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