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Tactile Imagery

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Tactile Imagery

What makes writing effective and compelling across all different kinds of written material is the use of imagery. In a sense, imagery works like a kind of magic that allows us to experience things we can't physically see, hear, touch, smell, or taste!

Imagery definition

What exactly is imagery?

Imagery refers to the use of descriptive language and figures of speech to make writing more vivid and effective. Imagery is often associated with 'painting a mental image' in the reader's mind by appealing to the reader's senses.

Imagery is such a rich and interesting literary technique that can go in so many directions, but here's a brief example:

The prickly cactus created an impenetrable wall between the parched explorers and the glistening watering hole. They knew that if they didn't reach water soon, they'd start dropping like flies.

This passage is made much more effective and interesting due to the imagery created. Without the imagery, it would read something like:

The explorers couldn't get past the large cactus. It stood in between them and the water. They were really thirsty and if they couldn't reach water soon, they would die.

Types of imagery

When it comes to imagery in writing, there are five key types and each one appeals to one of our five senses:

  • visual (sight)
  • auditory (hearing)
  • olfactory (smell)
  • gustatory (taste)
  • tactile (touch)

In this article, we'll be looking specifically at tactile imagery - imagery related to our sense of touch.

Tactile, Imagery Sense of Touch, StudySmarter

Tactile imagery is concerned with the sense of touch - Pixabay

Tactile imagery definition

In the interest of keeping things easy to follow, let's start off with a definition:

'Tactile' refers to anything connected with the sense of touch. Tactile imagery, by extension, is language that appeals to the sense of touch. In other words, tactile imagery is all about the feel of things.

For example:

  • 'The sun-baked bricks felt like crusty loaves of fresh bread straight out of the oven.'
  • 'The sprinkler spattered cooling bullets of water across the garden, reviving the cracked earth.'

Are emotions tactile imagery?

You might be thinking something like 'We feel emotions. Are emotions connected to tactile imagery?' While we do 'feel' emotions, emotions are not tangible.

Something that is 'tangible' is something that is able to be touched or perceived by touch.

You might have heard of abstract and concrete nouns, but in case you haven't here's a recap:

  • Abstract noun - something you cannot see or touch (e.g. things that cannot be quantified in physical terms such as love, fear, dreams, creativity etc).

  • Concrete noun - something you can see and touch (e.g. things that have physical properties such as a table, a fish, paper, people etc).

An emotion is an abstract noun and is therefore intangible (we cannot touch or quantify emotions), whereas a rose petal is a concrete noun and is tangible (we can touch a rose petal with our skin).

In a nutshell, tactile imagery is concerned with tangible or physical feelings and sensations.

Tactile, Imagery Purpose of Tactile Imagery, StudySmarterTactile imagery is concerned with tangible feelings, rather than abstract ones, Pixabay

Purpose of tactile imagery

When we read a novel, we want to be transported into the world of the story, and tactile imagery helps us to imagine all the things that we would be able to feel with our skin if we were living those experiences.

Tactile imagery covers sensations such as:

  • temperature
  • pressure or other forces that can act on a body (pushing, pulling, squeezing etc)
  • vibrations
  • pain

Picture this:

You are caught in a sudden downpour of rain as you walk from your car to your front door, and you become drenched to the point where your clothes are sticking to you and you can feel the cold seeping into your bones. You fumble for your key as your hands shiver, and your fingers slide against the wet door handle as you finally unlock and push open the door.

As you step into your living room, you feel the warm air wrap around your body like a shock blanket, providing relief from the cold outside. But it does not last, as your sodden clothes and hair keep chilling your skin. You peel your soggy clothes off as they reluctantly cling to you and jump into a hot shower, letting the beads of comforting warmth radiate through your body until the cold is just a memory.

Have you ever had an experience where you've been really cold and wet and just want to warm up? Try and write about it. Be as descriptive as you can! What about a time when you felt way too hot? Try and write about that too, using equally descriptive language!

In this example, tactile imagery has been used to describe a range of different feelings that you might encounter getting wet in the rain. We are able to envision not only the initial sensation of getting wet, but also the feeling of getting very cold, the initial relief of stepping into a warm room, the feeling of that relief wearing off, and the final sensation of getting properly warm again in the shower. Without the use of tactile imagery, that passage could be reduced to something like:

You are caught in a sudden downpour of rain walking from your car to your front door and get very wet and cold, making it hard to open the door. When you are finally able to open the door, the living room is nice and warm for a little while but it doesn't last long. You jump into a hot shower and the water warms you up again.

Not quite as effective huh? You see - imagery is like magic and tactile imagery is no exception!

Ways to create tactile imagery

There are loads of different strategies you can use in your writing in order to bring your tactile imagery to life! In this section, we'll look at a few of these different techniques and look at some brief examples to illustrate them.

Descriptive language

Firstly, and perhaps the most obviously, we have adjectives and adverbs that work to evoke different emotions or feelings when discussing a certain topic. As an English Language student, you've probably had to write various kinds of texts, and it's likely that in these texts, you've used lots of adjectives and adverbs.

In the context of tactile imagery, here are some examples of adjectives and adverbs in a passage:

The floury white sand turned clumpy and crumbly as it reached the water's edge, the waves smoothing it over and dishevelling it repeatedly. As Sarah walked along the waterline, jagged bits of shell scraped the undersides of her feet gently, and every once in a while, slimy strings of seaweed wrapped unexpectedly around her toes.

In this example, we have the adjectives: floury, clumpy, crumbly, jagged, and slimy, and the adverbs: repeatedly, gently, and unexpectedly. These words add detail to the scene and help to create a sense of atmosphere so that the reader can almost feel as though they are walking on that beach too. Without these words, there would be no tactile imagery in the passage and it would fall a bit flat.

The adjectives make the nouns in the passage more interesting (sand, waves, shell, seaweed) and the adverbs do the same for the verbs (smoothed and dishevelled, scraped, wrapped).

On that note, choice of verbs can also impact how effective tactile imagery is. For example, in the passage above, the verb 'scraped' is much more effective than 'touched', and it gives the reader a better idea of what the beach feels like to walk on. 'Smoothed' and 'dishevelled' also give a sense of texture whereas something like 'the waves swept over the sand' wouldn't have the same tactile effect.

Have a go at rewriting that passage without all the descriptive language and see what it sounds like. Can you still imagine yourself walking barefoot on the beach?

Tactile, Imagery Descriptive Language, StudySmarterDescriptive language can help to make the reader feel as if they are in the story, Pixabay

Figurative Language

Figurative language gets even more detailed and evocative than adjectives and adverbs, and the different techniques use language in different ways to create vivid mental images for the reader to explore. Where imagery is concerned (tactile imagery included), we want things to be as detailed and descriptive as possible, which is where figurative language comes in:

Similes

A simile is a figure of speech where someone compares something to another thing by saying it is LIKE that thing. Similes generally take two main forms: either using the word 'like' (e.g. 'His eyes were like two pools of chocolate pudding.'), or using the double 'as' structure (e.g. 'His brown eyes were as rich as chocolate pudding.').

If we apply similes to tactile imagery specifically, we might end up with something like this:

The kitten's fur was as soft as the very tips of a bird's downy feathers, so soft you could barely feel it. It was like touching smoke. Eliza picked the little ball of fluff up and felt his heartbeat in the palm of her hand, quick like a tiny jackhammer. He squirmed a little and then licked her finger with a tongue as rough as sandpaper.

In this example, we have several similes: 'as soft as the very tips of a bird's downy feathers', 'like touching smoke', 'quick like a tiny jackhammer', and 'as rough as sandpaper'. Each of these compares a certain texture or sensation to something else by saying it is LIKE something else or by using the double 'as' structure we talked about in the definition above.

By using similes in this passage, the reader gets much more detail and therefore a better sense of what exactly this kitten feels like. The reader is able to imagine the different comparisons used in the similes which helps to create a vivid tactile image.

Metaphors

A metaphor is another figure of speech where someone compares two things with each other by saying that one thing IS the other thing. Whereas similes say things are like other things, metaphors go one step further to conflate or combine the two things. For example, 'She was a cheetah when she got on the track.'

An example of how metaphors can be used to create tactile imagery could be something like this:

The dried forest leaves were piles of eggshells under Dan's boots, the crunch of each step a small celebration. Drips of rain filtered through the trees becoming heavy water balloons as they reached him, and he stopped to savour the watery pellets hitting his face and arms. After a few minutes, Dan was ready to walk again, determined to finish the hike.

In this example, we have the metaphors: 'leaves were piles of eggshells', 'each step a small celebration', 'becoming heavy water balloons', and 'watery pellets', and each one says that something IS (or becomes) another thing. This method of comparison makes the reader understand more intensely what the different sensations of the forest feel like.

For instance, comparing the crunch of the leaves to 'a small celebration' shows the reader Dan's delight at the crunchy sensation and comparing the leaves to eggshells also creates a visceral (very deeply or internally felt) tactile image of that same crackly, crunchy feeling. We are also told that the raindrops are heavy water balloons and watery pellets which suggests that Dan could really feel them hitting his skin.

Hyperbole

A hyperbole is essentially an example of extreme exaggeration that is not meant to be taken literally. For instance, 'I'm so hungry I could eat a chest of drawers!'

Using hyperbole as a method for creating tactile imagery is fun! Look at this example:

The bouncy castle was springier than all the beds in the world combined and Sammy jumped so high she could almost touch the sky! Every bounce catapulted her into space like a rocket launching into orbit. After she was finished jumping, she felt as though she was on death's doorstep from exhaustion.

In this example, we see quite a few ridiculous exaggerations such as 'springier than all the beds in the world combined', 'jumped so high she could almost touch the sky', 'catapulted her into space', and 'on death's doorstep'. Each of these extreme exaggerations creates a vivid tactile image of the different sensations Sammy experiences whilst jumping on the bouncy castle.

Tactile imagery covers not only what things feel like texturally, but also the sensations our bodies might feel as forces act on them. Jumping on a bouncy castle gives us that momentary zero-gravity feeling when we're up in the air, as well as the sensation of being flung upwards when we first jump, and these feelings are clearly evoked in this example using hyperbole. Feelings of bodily functions such as pain and tiredness are also covered by tactile imagery.

Tactile, Imagery Figurative Language, StudySmarter

Personification

Personification is when non-human entities or objects are given human-like qualities in order to give them life and personality. For example, 'My alarm clock screeches impatiently at me every morning.'

Tactile imagery often uses personification for effect, which might look something like this:

The cobwebs tickled James' face as he walked through the shed. He tripped over a mischievous rake as he frantically swiped the cobwebs away from his head, scared there might be spiders taking over his hair. The cold recesses of the back of the shed greedily pulled him in as the shed door slammed shut.

In this example, we see instances of personification in 'cobwebs tickled James' face', 'mischievous rake', 'spiders taking over his hair', and 'cold recesses of the shed greedily pulled him in'. By giving human qualities and personality to non-human entities, the different sensations that James feels (such as walking through cobwebs and feeling spiders in his hair, or having the shed suddenly turn cold as the door slams) become much more vivid, and the reader can almost picture themselves in those situations.

Tactile imagery examples

Let's take a look at some examples of tactile imagery in poetry and literature.

Tactile imagery in poetry

Pablo Neruda's 1993 poem 'Ode to my socks' uses tactile imagery to describe the feel of his socks.

Maru Mori brought mea pairof sockswhich she knitted herselfwith her sheepherder’s hands,two socks as softas rabbits.I slipped my feetinto themas though intotwocasesknittedwith threads oftwilightand goatskin.Violent socks,my feet weretwo fish madeof wool,two long sharkssea-blue, shotthroughby one golden thread,two immense blackbirds,two cannons:my feetwere honoredin this waybytheseheavenlysocks.

Tactile imagery in literature

Here is an example of tactile imagery in Ray Bradbury's 1953 dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451.

The author uses the feeling of a cold mausoleum as a metaphor to describe the unwelcomingness of the bathroom.

He opened the bedroom door. It was like coming into the cold marbled room of a mausoleum after the moon has set. Complete darkness, not a hint of the silver world outside, the windows tightly shut, the chamber a tomb-world where no sound from the great city could penetrate. The room was not empty. - Part 1.

Tactile Imagery - Key takeaways

  • In writing, imagery is language used to create a vivid picture in the mind of the reader, allowing them to feel as though they are more immersed in the scene being described.
  • There are five types of imagery, and each one connects to one of our five senses: visual (sight), auditory (hearing), tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste).
  • Tactile imagery is language that appeals to our sense of touch and is used to help the reader understand the textures and sensations evident or felt by the characters in a text.
  • Adjectives and adverbs are examples of descriptive language and play a big part in creating effective tactile imagery.
  • Figurative language techniques such as metaphors, similes, hyperbole, and personification are also common techniques used to create tactile imagery.

Frequently Asked Questions about Tactile Imagery

Tactile imagery is language that appeals to the sense of touch. In other words, tactile imagery is all about painting a picture about the feel of things.

Effective tactile imagery will help the listener understand how something feels. It makes writing more engaging.

Here is an example of tactile imagery:

As Sarah walked along the waterline, jagged bits of shell scraped the undersides of her feet gently, and every once in a while, slimy strings of seaweed wrapped unexpectedly around her toes.


The descriptive language helps us to picture how walking along the beach feels.

Tactile imagery is a literary device used to help paint a picture of how something feels.

Final Tactile Imagery Quiz

Question

What is imagery in writing?

Show answer

Answer

Imagery is language used to appeal to the reader's senses in order to make them feel more immersed in the scene.

Show question

Question

What are the five kinds of imagery?

Show answer

Answer

  • visual
  • auditory
  • tactile
  • olfactory
  • gustatory

Show question

Question

What are the five key senses that imagery appeals to?

Show answer

Answer

  • sight
  • hearing
  • smell
  • taste
  • touch

Show question

Question

Which of these are correct pairings?

Show answer

Answer

Gustatory = Taste

Show question

Question

What sense is appealed to using tactile imagery?

Show answer

Answer

Touch

Show question

Question

What is a concrete noun?

Show answer

Answer

A concrete noun is a noun that can be seen and touched.

Show question

Question

What is an abstract noun?

Show answer

Answer

An abstract noun is a noun that cannot be physically seen or touched. 

Show question

Question

Which of these is NOT an abstract noun?

Show answer

Answer

A glass

Show question

Question

Which of these is NOT a concrete noun?

Show answer

Answer

An emotion

Show question

Question

What is a simile?

Show answer

Answer

A simile is a figure of speech where one thing is compared to another by saying it is LIKE the other thing.

Show question

Question

What is a metaphor?

Show answer

Answer

A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two objects by combining or conflating them/ saying one object IS another object.

Show question

Question

What is hyperbole?

Show answer

Answer

Hyperbole is a significantly exaggerated statement that is not meant to be taken literally.

Show question

Question

What is personification?

Show answer

Answer

Personification is when non-human entities are given human-like qualities or personality. 

Show question

Question

Which of these is an example of tactile imagery?

Show answer

Answer

The clay was as crumbly as a cookie.

Show question

Question

Which of these is an example of tactile imagery?

Show answer

Answer

The cold bit into her skin like the fangs of a snake. 

Show question

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