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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?


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 7th, 2009 07:23 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I had the same thing with descriptions. People used to always tell me I needed more description. Now, I still do get that sometimes, but I also get a lot of compliments on how I can describe things in so few words, how vivid things are, etc. etc. Plotting, also, was something I used to consider a weakness and yet my complimentary rejections for Magic Under Glass almost ALL mention "gripping plot", "creative plot"... It seems the things I consciously worked at became things that are actually notable about my writing! Weird. Now I have to make sure the things I used to take for granted, like characters, are up to snuff!
Jan. 7th, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC)
Exactly my experience on all points! Wow. Glad I'm not alone.
Jan. 7th, 2009 07:55 pm (UTC)
Why have I not friended you yet?
Jan. 7th, 2009 08:13 pm (UTC)

I think that you hit on a key point. That which we work on is what is done well.

For me, I'm working on voice right now - and I've garnered a few compliments from critters for it. Now, where was that other list? *looks around*
Jan. 8th, 2009 06:00 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think it's actually harder to work on things you're a natural at... When something doesn't usually work for you, it's easy to spot when it does. But if it comes effortlessly... how do you know where to apply the effort? Heh.
Jan. 7th, 2009 08:19 pm (UTC)
Well, I'd have to say that being a visual reader has definitely made it challenging to get the right amount of description in my books. I often have people ask for more, but I don't know how to do more ;) However, I also hear as I read, and I think that's helped me as a writer because, generally speaking, I think dialogue is one of my strengths. I seldom have to question if it's enough or too much -- I can hear it, so I usually know. At least, I think I do ;)
Jan. 8th, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)
It's interesting how it can go both ways--some visual readers end up writing too much detail (because they're trying to capture everything they "see") and some end up writing not enough because just a little gives them a full picture.

I find I go both ways myself with the character stuff. I start out with not enough and have people asking "why did A do X?" etc., so then I add in a bunch of emoting and thinking about motives and then people complain I'm overdoing it. :P I haven't yet figured out a way to tell when I'm going under or over the ideal.
Jan. 7th, 2009 08:45 pm (UTC)
Decription. Sometimes I overdo it, but sometimes it fits just write. I like contra-dictory images, ugly vs. beauty, things like that.

My biggest problem used to be that I would over-edit. I'd write maybe a chapter, then edit it until it was absolutely perfect, and never get anywhere. My goal for myself now is to not edit at all. So I've got a MS that is not the greatest thing to read at the moment, but I've also done faster writing than ever before in my life.
Jan. 8th, 2009 06:05 pm (UTC)
I think a lot of people get stuck on the over-editing thing. For some people going back and editing before they move on does seem to actually work! But I've never been able to do it. I do much better writing an awful first draft and then go back and fixing it. :)
Jan. 8th, 2009 01:13 am (UTC)
"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."

YaYYYYY! That's cool. Good for you. Writing is SO hard. It's amazing how I'll be in my own lil' ol' world thinking everything makes sense, is clear and vivid and, well, it's not.

I agree with akabins. I over-edit also. It's a curse. Makes me frickin' insane. But, I guess I learn from that too. Once I pair things down drastically I put the meat back on.

Of course, I haven't published anything as yet, but I feel like I'm getter better as a writer. Good post.
Jan. 8th, 2009 06:07 pm (UTC)
It's amazing how I'll be in my own lil' ol' world thinking everything makes sense, is clear and vivid and, well, it's not.

I know! I think the hardest part of writing is figuring out how the words will come across to a reader. Because the writer can never look at them like a reader--we know too much! Which is why I love my critique partners. :)
Jan. 8th, 2009 07:24 pm (UTC)
Oh Megan - I was just talking with a friend about this very thing. She had never heard of a reader who skims at times, which I do. Mostly it is a patience thing - I just want to know what HAPPENS. But sometimes it's just not that great of writing, or rehashes stuff that I don't want to dwell on any longer (ok, I get the point, get on with it).

So, I find that carries over into my writing, too. I just want to get the story down. I frequently end up with 45,000 word first drafts. I know I need details, but they slow down the story that is developing as I write it. I'll get to them later, I figure. But by the time I get back to them, the story has already congealed in my brain and I can't *see* where to add detail.

I have been teaching myself, as I become more and more of a voracious reader - only because I am prioritizing it now - to slow down and smell the roses. Let all that detail enhance my experience. It makes it so much richer - when it is done right.

And I'm trying to do that with my writing too. The first draft will always be scrawny, I think - because I have to get that plot down from beginning to end. But I am trying really hard to analyze, with the help of other readers, where it needs fleshing out.

And having the word count button dangling at the top of my screen helps too - for some reason I think of it as a challenge to push that count, then I find ways to add - but only if it moves the story along or offers necessary support of what is there, of course.

You always address issues I seem to be dealing with. I hope that means my brain is similar to yours in some small way and that I'm on the road to publishing, too! Thanks!
Oct. 1st, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
I'm a visual reader
I know this is several months behind, but I've just decided to embrace my strangeness. Unlike a lot of the people who have posted, when I read it is exactly like watching a movie. I "see" everything in detail. It has caused me to appear to be crazy, I'll be telling someone about a movie that I saw and it turned out to be a book that I read.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

My Books

Earth & Sky
(Earth & Sky #1, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2014

The Clouded Sky
(Earth & Sky #2, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015

A Sky Unbroken
(Earth & Sky #3, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015

The Way We Fall
(Fallen World #1, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2012

The Lives We Lost
(Fallen World #2, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2013

The Worlds We Make
(Fallen World #3, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2014

Those Who Lived: Fallen World Stories
(Fallen World #3.5, apocalyptic YA)
self pubbed, 2014

Give Up the Ghost
(paranormal YA)
Henry Holt, 2009

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