The Sword and Laser discussion

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How do you visualize stories?

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message 1: by Dara (new)

Dara (cmdrdara) | 2650 comments Emily Asher-Perrin asks this question at Tor and I thought it would be a good question to pose here.

Asher-Perrin says,
There are no movies in my head. There are smudges and jump cuts and brief glimmers of high-res. There is a strange composite of things I know and things I don’t know, like a shoebox diorama half painted and half made out of photographs cut from magazines. And I love when movies get made from stories I adore—whether they overwrite the vague image I had in my head or they fill in the gaps I couldn’t manage, they help me complete the pictures that my brain is choosing to leave half-finished. It’s extra exciting to have to image finally filled in all the way to the edges of the page.


It's very much the same for me. I often cast actors to help me visualize things but environments, particularly indoors, are rough amalgamations of rooms with little clarity or detail.

In an interview somewhere that I can't find now, Daniel Radcliffe said when he reads he visualizes things as a cartoon which I found interesting.

What do you all imagine when you read?


message 2: by David H. (new)

David H. (farrakut) | 865 comments I really don't imagine much. I don't have aphantasia like Yoon Ha Lee for example, but usually at most I'm visualizing where characters are in relation to each other, and then maybe a "hmm, what do they look like again?" I know Rand is a tall redhead in the Wheel of Time and I know Perrin has or gets a beard, but I don't really have a mental image of Mat for example.


message 3: by Melani (new)

Melani | 149 comments I'm fairly sure that I do have aphantasia, I don't picture things in my head and when I first realized that people do that it was so foreign to me. Ask me to picture myself on a beach and it's more about the feelings of being on a beach rather then an actual picture.

So I don't really visualize when I'm reading at all. I don't cast characters and I don't think about what they look like beyond 'brown, fluffy hair means Hermione". The closest I've ever come to visualization happened when I re-read LoTR after watching the movies and I couldn't not hear Ian McKellen's voice as Gandalf.


message 4: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 3040 comments I don't. For me a book is about entering a place of silence in my head and absorbing the text.


message 5: by Serendi (new)

Serendi | 762 comments When it comes to setting, I tend to take very small descriptions, create an image in my head that may be completely unlike the description, and roll with it.

For example, a few years ago I realized I had read three series with a female tough-gal mechanic, and my images of their garages were all very different. (Elizabeth Bear's Jenny Casey, Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson, C. E. Murphy's Walker Papers.) Went back and read the actual descriptions - there were almost no details. But in two of the three cases I created images I could walk around in. (The third, Jenny Casey, was just confusing until it occurred to me that the three tables mentioned were probably actually the same table. All of a sudden it clicked together.)


As for people: main characters keep turning into someone more like an idealized version of me. It takes real effort to put the description back to what it's supposed to be. Side characters aren't so much of a problem.


message 6: by Iain (new)

Iain Bertram (iain_bertram) | 876 comments John (Taloni) wrote: "I don't. For me a book is about entering a place of silence in my head and absorbing the text."

Likewise, A yawning pit of darkness is all I get.....


message 7: by Trike (new)

Trike | 5686 comments Dara wrote: "What do you all imagine when you read?"

I was having a serious case of deja vu seeing this topic, and then I realized we touched on this during the Ninefox Gambit discussion last winter — the “I have no concept of any of this” thread: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

To sum up my posts there, I do visualize everything. Cast, cats, couches; you name it, I see it.

Being a TV/film guy, I went through a period where I would even try to figure out how to shoot the scenes I was reading. Here, I’ll just cut and paste my comment from that thread:
At first it seemed to me that not visualizing things would be like being deaf — missing out on so much! But then I remembered the decades where I could barely get through any novel because I was OVER-visualizing everything and trying to figure out how I would film the scene, which meant I was also adding a camera and lights and sound equipment and whether it needed a matte or bluescreen or rear projection or, or, or... argh.

I had to train myself to stop doing that, because it was getting in the way of the story. So in that sense I was being overwhelmed by the mental images, as if I were next to a construction site in a big city during rush hour. A little deafness might be nice in that instance.



message 8: by Kat (last edited Sep 26, 2019 10:58AM) (new)

Kat | 32 comments I have movies in my mind when I read.

They come complete with smells, sound, and weather.


message 9: by Aaron (last edited Sep 26, 2019 06:21PM) (new)

Aaron | 243 comments I'm a full movie reader and audio listener); the words disappear and are replaced with my internal movie. But faces tend to be blank or generic (I've improved a bit on that). One of the ways I know a book isn't working for me is the lack of movie.


message 10: by Beth (last edited Sep 27, 2019 02:08PM) (new)

Beth (rosewoodpip) | 6 comments Fun topic!

I'm another "movie in the head" person, maybe to too great of an extent. In addition to full visuals (not the rest of the sensorium though), my heart and breathing rate go up during tense scenes. I am often impatient with exposition because there's nothing to picture.

There are some recurring "sets." A lightly-described home tends to look like my parents' house, and manses (for example) are pretty much identical. Maybe that's why I like fantasy so much - it's easier for me to create a picture from very little "input" when the setting is far outside my personal experience.


message 11: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Morgan (sayselizabeth) | 162 comments I'm a brief-snatches kind of person, but the more I re-read a book, the more I add in to the picture. Beloved reads more fully-fleshed out. Sometimes I have to watch the screen adaptation to get an idea of characters before I can fully get into the book. Pride & Prejudice and The Expanse series stand out as two instances of that.

I never picture the people; instead, it's almost as if I am standing behind them as they play out their role. Like running behind your RPG character. Settings don't often get more than a light wash of texture.


message 12: by Shaina (new)

Shaina (shainaeg) | 165 comments I'm a movie in my head person, but it's a little more like a dollhouse in my head. I have pretty clear ideas of the spaces the characters are in and even the layout and relationships between rooms. These are from both descriptions in the book, rooms I've seen, and completely made up.

The characters inhabiting the spaces are less well defined. Some, especially in books I've read more than once, have some clear characteristics; most are just human shapes associated with a character and maybe one or two standout characteristics.

These characters move throughout the spaces I've created and have conversations and adventures as written in the book. I'm always baffled by people's casting of characters since the characters are the one thing I don't have a clear picture of.


message 13: by Shaina (new)

Shaina (shainaeg) | 165 comments The other weird thing for me is that once I've seen a movie version that often takes over the old version in my head to the point that I can't remember what I used to imagine.


message 14: by Trike (new)

Trike | 5686 comments Shaina wrote: "I'm a movie in my head person, but it's a little more like a dollhouse in my head."

Pictured, Shaina’s mental movie: https://youtu.be/IpCdMGfducg


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2429 comments I don't visualize books in my head at all, but I once had a guest on my podcast who does, and because of that is really bothered when an author makes a mistake about a small detail like picking something up they are already holding, etc. She was fascinating. A year after reading a book she won't remember names but all the plot.


message 16: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Preiman | 341 comments I used to have a fairly detailed movie, if not entirely photo realistic than pretty close, but 10 years ago I lost my side and I find as time goes on, the images I form in my head become less photo realistic and are adopting a more simplistic animated style, all bright colors and bold lines. Interestingly enough, this is not happening for visual memories, which are just becoming progressively harder and harder to conjure in general. Like I’ll be able to tell you the details of a thing but not be able to form the mental image of that thing.


message 17: by Knightmiss (new)

Knightmiss | 6 comments I think I usually have a movie going, but it depends on how much information the author puts in. The very specific details aren't necessary because they kind of get filled in or not noticed. Like if they say they're walking through a northern forest in winter, I don't need specifics about the trees or the snow, unless it's relevant to the plot somehow.
I can't imagine sounds too well though, so when full lyrics to songs or information about what it sounds like are included, it doesn't do much for me.


message 18: by John (Nevets) (new)

John (Nevets) Nevets (nevets) | 1148 comments Knightmiss wrote: "I can't imagine sounds too well though, so when full lyrics to songs or information about what it sounds like are included, it doesn't do much for me."

I'm the same way. That's why my answer to the old slightly insensitive question of "Would you rather by deaf or blind?" is blind, since I have a pretty well developed visual imagination, but not so much for auditory.


message 19: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Preiman | 341 comments Trust me though, you don’t really get to keep that visual imagination, not forever anyway


message 20: by John (Nevets) (new)

John (Nevets) Nevets (nevets) | 1148 comments Interesting Christopher, I did not know/ think of that. After reading your previous post, I'm sorry you've had to experience that first hand. And I apologize for making such an insensitive statement after you had willingly shared your journey. Despite what I said before, I feel very privileged to have both my sight and hearing.


message 21: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Preiman | 341 comments Oh, I didn’t think it was insensitive at all. I just think it’s funny when people say things like that, because it is funny what the brain does and what it does and doesn’t retain when you lose a sense.


message 22: by Seth (new)

Seth | 58 comments Knightmiss wrote: "...I can't imagine sounds too well though, so when full lyrics to songs or information about what it sounds like are included, it doesn't do much for me."

I'm a bit the opposite. I see those song lyrics in a book and immediately some melody pops into my head (and sometimes gets whistled or sung if I'm alone with my book). Visually, however, I get impressions of what I'm reading, but rarely anything detailed. I can envision environments pretty well, but have almost no sense of what characters look like.


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