January 7th, 2009

book magic

The non-visual reader as a writer

Continuing from yesterday's post (interesting to see, based on the poll, that most people are fairly visual readers!)...

As a not-particularly-visual reader, I don't get a whole lot out of long passages of description and tend to skim them. So I also tended to "skim" over writing description when I was starting out as a writer. A couple lines to establish where we are and who we're looking at, and on to the good stuff! But as I realized that many readers like description and want to be able to visualize the story, I decided this was a major weakness that I was going to have to work on, and I figured it was something that would always be a little lacking in my writing.

So it was kind of surprising, a few years back, when critique partners started telling me they found my writing very vivid and they could really see and feel what was going on. At first I wondered if this was some kind of fluke, but then I got similar comments on the next novel, and the next. Which made me wonder how it was possible that what I thought was an immense weakness could have turned into a strength.

The conclusion I've come to is this:

Because I don't tend to see things automatically when I'm reading, it takes a very striking and vivid description to bring an image into my mind. And the more I read, the more I've picked up one what sorts of imagery work for me and what don't.

When I'm writing and I want to describe something, I make myself visualize it. That's usually not too hard. But then I have to figure out how to put that visual into words. What sort of description would make me, the non-visual reader, see it? (I have to go by my own perceptions, of course, since I have no way of knowing what would make a visual reader see things.) Well, it has to be the sort of intense imagery that works for me when I'm reading.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, if a description is vivid enough to work for a non-visual reader like me, it seems to work really well for visual readers.

Which is kind of neat. I'm almost thankful I'm not a visual reader, because it appears to have helped me out as a writer!

I suspect this sort of thing happens a lot. The things that come naturally to us, we may take for granted, and we don't know quite how to improve on them if we want to--since we don't know how we do it in the first place, it just happens. (For example, because I'm automatically attuned to emotions in stories, I find I sometimes have trouble making sure I'm getting my characters' feelings across in a way that's clear but not overdoing it for the reader.) But the things we struggle with, because we have to work hard to grasp them, we can end up becoming quite skilled at.

So here's today's question: do you have any writing weaknesses that you've been able to turn into strengths? Or, for that matter, strengths that have ended up being weaknesses?