The English word “evoke” comes from the Latin word “evocare” — to call up memories, call forth/provoke a reaction, to summon the spirits of the dead. Harry Dresden uses “evocation” magic to blow sh!t up.

In (fiction) writing, “evocation” is the idea of drawing something out of the reader, evoking vivid memories and engaging their imagination so that they fill in the gaps of what the writer is merely suggesting. That’s according to Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques by Professor James Hynes.

Here’s a bit more — it’s also mostly paraphrase, but I’ll set it off anyway:

When you show, you make the reader a participant, putting them in the story along with the character. It’s both the writer and reader using their imaginations together — the reader may be doing half the work, but she doesn’t know it.

All writers have heard the cliché advice “show don’t tell” — along with its corollary “except when you need to just tell.” I’ve never really understood the cliché — beyond the obvious (show what characters are doing/thinking/feeling with descriptive language).

A very simple example: Thor clenched his fists and stormed in versus Thor was angry!

And, of course, I’ve been trying to “show” in my writing (hopefully better than the above example).

But, hearing the same thing called “evocation” made a whole lot more sense. Maybe b/c the word is cool (I kid), but maybe more so b/c it emphasizes the calling forth of an emotional response in the reader.

I can “show” a fantastical battle with pretty language, but to go the next step and really involve the reader…get him/her to experience it, to feel it viscerally, that’s something else entirely.

Maybe I’ve just been obtuse in not catching the real meaning of “show don’t tell.” Maybe not. All I can say is that evocation did the trick.



Fantasy author writing a series inspired by Norse myth.