This is a guest post by author PJ Reece. PJ’s novel, Roxy, was published in Canada. Get the eBook on Amazon. You can also review Roxy through Story Cartel . Follow PJ on his blog.

A CENTRAL IMAGE: build one into your story and readers will love you.

What would Moonstruck be without its full moon? Or Moby Dick without its white whale? When you think of The Sun Also Rises, you think of Spanish bulls.


Photo by Ava Verino

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Even a picture that has been mentalized out of clunky old words. The image, once conjured up, is a powerful clue to what the story is about.

Think about it—we think in pictures, not words.

Central Images Focus Your Story

In my first novel, Smoke That Thunders, the central image is the hero’s destination—a legendary waterfall on the Zambezi River. People go misty-eyed just speaking its name. As an image or concept to keep the story in focus, the waterfall was a no-brainer.

That’s what a central image does—it acts as a symbolic nexus to bind disparate story elements together. It’s a touchstone for your story’s theme.

Central Images Are Destinations

The central image in my second novel, ROXY, I like even better.

The 17-year-old protagonist wears a tattoo over her heart. It’s a text tattoo that reads: Shangri-La. It’s the mythical Himalayan paradise. Ultimately, it is Roxy’s destination, too.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that…

Every central image in a story is a destination—materially, emotionally, or spiritually (you should probably tweet that).

Tattoos serve especially well as central images in fiction. For the wearer, they often symbolize a value of some kind. If that person is the protagonist, then the tattoo reveals their dream or aspiration. We understand what moves them.

Roxy’s Shangri-La tattoo is hidden, as central images often are. But there’s no confusion about it—it represents the basis of her belief system. The mere mention of “Shangri-La” reminds us why she acts as she does throughout the book.

When she discovers that her personal icon is a lie—look out!

Central Images Add Meaning

The central image in any good film or book lends us understanding without laborious thinking. It works behind the scenes to…

  • clue us in to what the book is about.
  • point to where the story is headed.
  • help define the protagonist.
  • unlock the story’s meaning.

Once you discover your central image, it will demand to appear as early in the story as possible. And without question, it will feature on your book’s cover.

Central image: build one into your story and you, the writer, will love yourself.

Do you have a central image in your story? What is it?


What image would make a powerful central image for a story? Practice describing a central image for your work in progress or for a story you hadn’t yet considered.

Describe the central image for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section.

And if you post, please be sure to give feedback to a few posts by other writers.

PJ Reece’s Y.A. novel, ROXY, has just been released as an eBook on Also on Amazon, check out Reece’s STORY STRUCTURE TO DIE FOR.

Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).