Evocative language. What is it?
Simply put, evocative language builds expectation, tension, and establishes mood. It sucks the reader into the story through the very vividness of its prose and dialogue.
The pilot episode of Stranger Things opens with:
EXT. MONTAUK SKY – NIGHT
We FADE UP on the night sky. Dark clouds swallow the stars.
We hear a LOW-END RUMBLE. It sounds almost like thunder, only it is somehow more alive. Like the growl of an unseen beast. We TILT DOWN to find…
In the scene above the descriptive language adds to the mood and setting. Words such ‘rumble’, thunder’ and growl’ lend a sense of menace, as does the simile of the ‘unseen beast.’ This is a powerful start to the episode—one that hooks us into the story from the get-go, primarily through the power of the language.
“Evocative language helps to hook the reader into the story from the get-go.”
In The Nostalgia of time Travel, a strange, almost occult mood is established through choice words:
“Incandescent symbols spiral along the moist eye of the cyclone. I jot them down as quickly as I can, but it is difficult to keep up. Look directly at them and they vanish. I catch them out of the corner of my eye. Like the half-glimpsed phantoms haunting my childhood, they are shapes that the mind has more to do in the making than the eye in perceiving…
… And suddenly I see them, grey, cloud-sized ghosts shimmering behind the symbols. They slide along the inside of the funnel like images on the curved screen of some experimental movie theater whose aspect ratio is not quite right.”
Here, the language is both concrete and ethereal. The eye of the cyclone is ‘moist’. The ‘symbols’ are like ‘half-glimpsed phantoms’—‘cloud-sized ghosts shimmering’ as they slide along the inside funnel of the storm. The simile of ‘ghosts’ appearing on the screen like ‘some experimental movie theater whose aspect ratio is not quite right’ is unexpected and creates a sense of the old and new worlds colliding. Lastly, the cyclone is as much a symbol of the inner turmoil of the protagonist as it is a dangerous, physical event. As readers we sense this through the subtext and it raises our involvement and expectation.
Evocative language, then, is versatile. It creates deeper levels of meaning and emotion. It helps the writer set the mood, build expectation and sustain the plot and action.
Exercise: Locate a passage in your own writing that describes a place, character or time. Find the verbs and nouns that describe it. Is the language as tactile and sense-driven as it can be? If not, amp up the vividness of the language.
Use evocative language to create the appropriate mood for your scenes.