Imagery is all around us in any art form, the most conspicuous being the visual arts such as paintings, photography or film. The elements of these visual arts also appear in prose; it can be less conspicuous at first because we have to imagine the scene for ourselves but when reading as a writer we have to develop this ability to infer what might be happening beneath the scene in the characters’ heads or in the story. What you might not realise is that you’re often doing this subconsciously because these visual cues are innately recognised and you’ve simply got to bring that recognition to the surface and begin applying it to your writing.
An example that appears immediately in my mind is putting one character, A, physically higher than another character, B, so A looking down on B. Immediately this implies that A has some kind of power over B, particularly if B is kneeling, or perhaps A has the moral high ground or knows B’s dark secret or A is B’s employer. Which one you think is the right interpretation will depend upon the context in which the scene in set, such as your knowledge of the characters, and your own personal leanings.
However, it’s a symbolic act that appears all over the place, a real life instance would be the steps up to a royal throne because this shows the power the king or queen has over their subjects, either we go up to them or they come down to us at their behest. A social/cultural context such as this can affect your perception of the situation you’re witnessing.
On the subject of royalty another example would be King Arthur’s round table. The table is round so that no-one is at the head of it, everyone is equal and can look everyone else in the eye. Once again there is a social and cultural context to this because of the perception, at least in Britain, that the person of highest rank would sit at the head of the table and everyone else would be arranged below them.
Now, I may be getting repetitious here, but it is important to remember that when you’re making these interpretations it is purely that. You could look at something and say, ‘A has power over B because A has the power in the scene’ but it may not be the creator’s intention because sometimes it is just coincidence. Similarly as a writer you might work a piece of symbolic imagery into your work and it is either misinterpreted or not seen at all because it’s not part of the reader’s interpretation.
If we were to write our interpretation down it would be a mistake to say: ‘In this scene the writer is saying that character A has the power over character B.’ The writer has not said this, we have interpreted it so it might be better to phrase it as: ‘In this scene it may be suggested that character A has the power because they are placed above B.’
This is why there is so much disagreement when it comes to the arts but as long as you can form an argument for your reasoning people can’t simply say ‘Well, Shakespeare didn’t mean that’ or ‘you can’t suggest that Beckett meant that.’ Interpretations are personal things, that’s why they’re interpretations not facts.