Using noun phrases to build worlds

Learn how writers use language to create rich and vivid mental images

How do writers use language to create images in your mind? Read this extract and think very consciously about the kinds of images the language is conjuring up for you.

A rustle in the tunnel darkness; the knife was in his hand, and then it was no longer in his hand, and it was quivering gently almost thirty feet away. He walked over to his knife and picked it up by the hilt. There was a gray rat impaled on the blade, its mouth opening and closing impotently as the life fled. He crushed its skull between finger and thumb. (Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere)

What words and phrases are important in creating a mental image here? Can you use grammatical terminology to help develop your response?

Now look at the use of noun phrases in the extract. See if you can find them all. 

You should have found:

  • a rustle
  • the tunnel darkness
  • the knife
  • his hand
  • his knife
  • the hilt
  • a gray rat
  • its mouth
  • the blade
  • its mouth
  • its skull

  • Why do you think the writer might have used so many noun phrases, in such a short extract?
  • There is a striking lack of modification in these noun phrases. Why do you think the writer crafted language in this way?
  • Can you create you own short piece of fiction, using the same noun phrases?
  • What conclusions can you draw about the way that noun phrases might be used in creating mental images?



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