January 6th, 2009

brick puzzling rubix

Seeing stories

During the holidays, I had an interesting discussion with jenny_moss about visualizing stories. It's something I've been meaning to write about for a while, so I thought it was about time. :)

I've always heard people talk about how they "see" stories as they read them, and gotten the impression that for many (most?) avid readers, while they're reading, a book plays out in their head almost like a movie. Which has always made me feel kind of deficient, because I don't "see" stories as I read them.

Occasionally, a very sharp description will give me an automatic image. But for the most part, all I have is a fairly blurry sense of what the characters look like and where they are, and all the rest is words. Sometimes, I make myself visualize a scene, because I'm getting confused as to where people and things are and how they're interacting, but that requires effort--it would be exhausting to try to read an entire book doing it. When I try to think of a single scene or moment in any story I've read that I do have a clear mental image of... Honestly, I can't do it. (I tried when I was talking with Jenny about this, and every time I thought I'd found one, I realized it was for a story that had illustrations, or that I'd see a movie version of, which is probably where the visual came from, rather than my imagination.)

What I do follow as I read, and remember afterward, seems to be mostly based on emotion. I'm very sensitive to how the characters are feeling and how the setting/events/etc. will affect them. The scenes I remember best after reading a book are usually the ones where the character was experiencing some strong emotion. I'd suspect this is why I have a hard time staying invested in a book when I can't at least partly connect with the viewpoint character, and why the only trilogies/series I tend to stick with are those with major characters I find particularly fascinating/involving (which is a post for another day).

I'm going to post later this week about how I think being a non-visual reader has affected my writing. For now, I'm curious to find out just how many people really are visual readers. If you have a second, please respond in the poll below. I'd be interested to hear your comments as well!

(Note: assume this refers to non-illustrated stories you have not seen movie or TV adaptations of)

Poll #1326387 Seeing Stories

To what extent do you "see" or automatically visualize a story as you're reading it?

I see the entire story play out as if it's a movie; I have clear mental images of all the characters and places.
I see the most important/exciting events; I have clear mental images of the major characters and places.
I have a visual impression of major events, characters, and places, but rarely anything detailed.
I have no visual sense of stories at all.
Some other variation I will explain in the comments.