Thursday, January 26, 2017

Can You See It?


When I read, one of the things I take for granted is that I can picture what's happening in the book as easily as if I were actually watching the action in front of me. Some writers make that experience richer than others, adding texture galore that rounds out the feel of things.

The ability to "see" what I'm reading is a perk for me, although it can backfire at times when a movie is made, and I'm irritated that something is "not how I pictured it at all." Of course, with books nearly always being better than their movies, I just tell myself I'm right and the movie director is horribly wrong.

A friend of mine who's an avid reader has always said, "I guess I must have no imagination, because I can never picture how anything is supposed to look when I read a book." When Fellowship of the Ring was made into a movie, I remember saying something about how so many scenes were even better than I'd pictured, and she stated that she loved seeing it because she hadn't been able to imagine any of it.

Turns out she's not lacking in imagination, or comprehension, or anything else. She simply suffers from a condition called aphantasia, the inability to conjure up visual imagery.

Doctors and scientists are only recently discovering how this works—or doesn't work—in the brain. Aphantasia may affect up to one in fifty people, so it's certainly more common than you'd think. Those who suffer from it are often unaware that most people can easily do what seems impossible for them.

As a reader, a person can compensate by focusing on the facts and descriptions of a character or a scene, even if that person can't conjure it up visually.

But what if you're an author? If your mind's eye is essentially blind, are you able to write scenes that will move your audience? Can you add the elements that stimulate all five senses in a way that's vivid enough?

Ever since I read about this a year or so ago, I've wondered if there are, indeed, authors who suffer from this, and if that's why some writers can take a scene over the top while others fall flat. Perhaps it's not immature writing or lack of skill, per se, but simply a lack of ability to see it as they write.

What do you think? When you write, do you picture the scene and write what you're seeing in your mind, or do you write the action and then go back and fill in the details? I'm curious.


10 comments:

  1. I think it would be really difficult to be a writer and not be able to visualize things. Although maybe that's why some rely so heavily on images.

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    1. I'm sure it must be possible, but boy, would that make the writing difficult!

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  2. I can't imagine (no pun!) not seeing the images in my head! It's part of loving writing and reading for me, to be honest. I think I'd be so so sad if I couldn't! :(

    S.K. Anthony: Amazon’s New Print On Demand Feature

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    1. It would be hard enough as a reader, but as a writer . . . what a headache. And probably a sucky book. ;)

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  3. Aphantasia? Great movie. I especially like the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment. ;-)

    Seriously, I see it, and write it. Sometimes I may let the written description slide a bit because I see it so clearly, I subconsciously think my reader automatically sees it, too.

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    1. Uh-huh, and look what happened to the sorcerer's apprentice: he saw TOO MUCH.

      I understand what you mean about your mind filling in blanks with descriptions, though. There are times when I'm editing when I'll ask the author to send me a drawing of what he's describing, because I'm having a hard time picturing an object and want to make sure he's saying it the way it needs to be said.

      That said, I've also read books where I get to the end and realize I have no clue as to what the main character looks like, because a description was never given, nor any hints along the way.

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  4. I think the most valuable skill a writer has is putting themselves in the mind of their characters. I guess this isn't visual imagery per se. It's more like imagination. Hard to write without it, nonetheless.

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    1. It may not be the visual imagery, per se, but it still gives more depth to the character, rather than limiting the reader to being an observer only. Good to hear from you, Donn!

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  5. Wow, that's really interesting. I had no idea such a thing was possible. I just thought that was basic brain activity - the ability to 'picture' things. Uh, maybe I worded that poorly. Anyone reading this who has aphantasia, I did not just call you brain dead. I swear.

    Fun fact: when I write, I do feel like a director. So much so, that you can pick out any scene in any book I've ever written and I can tell you exactly where the camera would be, how the characters are positioned, etc. I just never forget, and when I write, that's how I see things, as if it was a movie.

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    1. I'm pretty sure you did call someone brain dead. But I'm okay with it and it's my blog. And yes, I'm with you: it never occurred to me that not envisioning things was a "thing." Much less one with such a cool name.

      Maybe your director brain is telling you that your books will someday be made into movies . . .

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