Do You “See” a Book as You Read? Let’s Discuss!

Posted February 16, 2022 by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction in Let's Discuss / 26 Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I was away from home for a few days while at my son’s State meet for Special Olympics snowshoeing (you can see a video of him here if you’re curious what that is). On the second morning, I found myself missing snuggles from my pup, Digit. He tends to be very needy in the mornings, which means that he gives me very forceful snuggles, hoping I’ll play with him in return. He’s a very smart dog—it usually works. At any rate, I found myself thinking about his cute little face and I realized—I couldn’t actually picture it. I mean, I had a sort of blurry idea of his face. I know his coloring and that he has perk ears and an area on his nose where the white juts in on one side and out on the other. I could describe it, but I couldn’t picture it.

This made me think of my family’s faces. I mean, I should be able to clearly picture every single person in my family, right? I see them every day and I have for years. But when I tried, the same thing happened. Their detailed features are blurred. I can get a fleeting image in my mind, almost a flash of them, but when I really try to focus on the image and hold it in my mind, it’s gone. It’s like having a word at the tip of your tongue—it’s there, and then gone. In fact, I’ve realized that the only truly solid images I have in my mind are photographs that I’ve looked at a lot. For instance, I can perfectly picture Digit when he was a tiny puppy and we brought him home that first day because my daughter took a pic of him in my arms, and I stared at it a lot (especially since I shared it as a “before” pic in my monthly wrap-up for the first seven months of his life). I can call that picture up in my mind easily. But a fleeting, moving image of Digit as he is today? Not really.

This made me think about reading. In a recent discussion post, Jessica @ a GREAT read talked about how she visualizes a scene as a narrator describes it (which reminded me I wanted to write a post about this, so thanks for that). I definitely do not do that. And realizing that I can’t even clearly picture my family’s faces explained why. When I read, I do the same thing I described above: I see brief flashes of that world in my mind. A particular description strikes me and I find myself momentarily imagining it. Or I get a flash of some particular piece of action happening. But that’s the extent of it. I definitely don’t have a solid image of a character in my mind, even when they’re well-described. And I don’t “see” the scenes like a movie. In fact, I think this is why things like battle scenes aren’t my favorite; I’m not picturing them as they’re happening, so I end up feeling, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, they fight and fight some more,” until I get to the emotional impact of the moment. The character’s thoughts and feelings about what’s happening are the moments that stick with me, not the battle itself. I sometimes hear dialogue or even the MC’s thoughts in my mind, but I rarely visualize the action.

This can be a bit of a challenge for me when I write, as well, because my instinct is to skip over descriptive details that I wouldn’t see while reading anyway. I have to fight that instinct and work hard to visualize a scene more clearly. I’m wondering if people who have a more artistic mindset have an easier time with this?

Anyway, it all made me wonder … how common is this? Do most of you “see” a book while you’re reading it?

Do you have a movie reel that plays in your mind as you read, or is it more like fleeting images that just occasionally come and go? I want to know!



26 responses to “Do You “See” a Book as You Read? Let’s Discuss!

    • Oh, that’s a good point. If I’m reading a book that also has a TV/movie counterpart that I know really well, I definitely picture those actors. For instance, when I recently read Kendare Blake’s new Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff book, I pictured Alyson Hannigan – but again, I’m picturing almost like a still image of her, as if from a photo – very particular expressions. And I can hear her voice for sure. (It helps that I’ve been rewatching Buffy lately).

  1. I don’t know if it’s because of the type of stories I read, but I don’t visualize. I feel the stories so much though. Chills, tears, aching heart — that’s me. Every once in a while I stop and try to “see”, but I have to make the effort, it doesn’t just happen.

    Sam@WLABB recently posted: Can’t Wait Wednesday!
  2. I’ve always done this as I read. maybe that’s why I prefer a book to a movie and why I can’t read horror or too many thrillers. It is also how I write. I have to visual the scene and then I can write it. If I can’t visualize, I have trouble with the scene.

  3. I don’t have a movie reel. That would be awesome, though. What I have is more like watching a play through a dirty window. I can never hear dialogue, and the details are blurry, but I can see enough to picture the action.

  4. Danielle Hammelef

    I see a full movie playing before me as I read–this is why I have a difficult time with fighting and other violent scenes. I don’t like characters featured on covers because my imagination may differ from what the artist illustrated/photographed.

  5. Amy S.

    I definitely see what I read. But if a character isn’t described early on then often times my vision of the character turns out to be wrong once they are described later. Wrong hair color happens most often. My husband dislikes reading, and he has told me that he can’t visualize what he is reading, which is why he much prefers movies and TV. I hadn’t thought about people having an image, but a kind of blurry or faint image of what they were reading. I always thought of it as clearly see it or not at all. Interesting to think about.

  6. !! Do you have prosopagnosia (face blindness)? What you describe reminds me of my own experience with prosopagnosia, though I can generally recognize faces by recognizing certain features.

    I don’t visualize well what I’m reading, either, unless I can compare it to its screen adaptation or one that’s similar. I think this is why I often find the movie/TV show to be better most of the time, as I’m left struggling to imagine the scenes of a book as I read it or pull from personal trauma.

    In my own fictional writing, it’s entirely different — but then that’s a bit special in its own way, because I can imagine things. I partook in a lot of forum-based role-playing groups, which helped with my writing and fleshing out my characters, but I struggle with getting from Beginning to End because executive dysfunction.

    It’s just hard to imagine people I know and what they look like until I’m face to face with them and it hits me: oh, right, red hair is my aunt.

    Izzy/Jane recently posted: Autism burnout
  7. I see very little in my head as I read. If there has been a movie version, I *might* picture those actors. But as for settings? Really the only way I can imagine it is if it’s a real place and I’ve been there or seen a ton of pictures… and even then it’s not very detailed at all. Then again, I don’t usually have very vivid dreams, either. Every now and then I’ll have a dream that is so vivid in my mind that it sticks with me. (Sometimes for years. It’s that rare.) But usually my dreams are impressions—sometimes I even dream in words, as if someone is reading me a story—and there are no lasting visuals at all. So it has never surprised me that I can’t visualize books as I’m reading them.

    Nicole @ BookWyrm Knits recently posted: Book Review: Tristan Strong Keeps Punching (Kwame Mbalia)
  8. I’m with you, I’m more fleeting images and blurry outlines, it’s not like a movie in my head. I just sort of read and know what’s happening but I never see it. I guess I sort of hear the character dialogue, it’s weird the more I think about it. Do people really see a play by play of the story as they read? Surely not, my brain can’t process it all in that time. I do have vague visuals of places more than people.

    Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity recently posted: So many reviews // Fantasy Books I’ve Read Lately
  9. I have always been terrible at visualizing books as I read. I think I’ve gotten a bit better as I’ve aged, because I’ve been to more landscapes — for example I can better imagine hiking over high mountains. Things I have no experience of are hard to imagine. But in general, my mind just skims over spatial descriptions. I have a terrible time with mysteries that depend on such things, for example.

    Lory @ Entering the Enchanted Castle recently posted: Beautiful Books: The Color Purple
  10. I’ve always found this an interesting discussion, because while I /can/ picture, say, my parents’ dog when I focus on visualizing him, I do experience reading visualizaiton more like how you describe. Nothing too concrete or solid, certainly not like a movie in my mind – just flashes of visuals. I’d say I feel what I read more than I see it? It’s a nebulous thing to describe! I find I appreciate more lyrical or metaphorical descriptions than concrete, realistic ones because I don’t find the concrete descriptions very interesting and I don’t care to/can’t ‘visualize’ it anyway. I suppose I want to enjoy the words for what they are – words.

  11. Nope, no visuals for me either! (Interestingly, I wonder if this has something to do with why our enjoyment of books so often overlaps?) Ditto with people, places, etc. I can picture just the idea of them, not the visual, really. Here’s a weird thing- every so often, sometimes I get a very random, VERY specific memory– it could be a person, a moment in time, whatever, and it is so incredibly vivid I feel as if I am there. And it is overwhelming! Is this how most people remember/visualize all the time? If so, wow, that is intense!

    Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight recently posted: Furia Blog Tour & Giveaway
  12. If the writing is strong enough I seem to picture everything: the characters, the setting, the action. If I see a movie after I’ve read a book and pictured everything in my head and the movie’s pictures don’t match up, then I tend to not like the movie as much as the book instead of the other way around. Here is my February discussion topic: What do you do when a favorite author dies? Let’s Discuss!

  13. I definitely “see” books as I’m reading, as though I’m watching a movie in my head. But everything isn’t as crystal clear or detailed as a movie. My mind is a weird mix of vivid and vague. Some characters I can picture better than others. Or, like, if they’re in a bedroom, I’ll be picturing them in a bedroom, and I know there’s furniture there, and it’s unique from other bedrooms, but I couldn’t necessarily tell you what color the bed sheets are. My mind just fills everything out but decides which things are important enough to really notice. I don’t think anything is at 100% clarity and realism, but I am seeing it all play out. So I get frustrated when I’m not even given basic description like hair color because then idk what to picture and my brain doesn’t know what to do lol.

    But I think I’m better at envisioning something being described than trying to remember what something/someone looks like. So don’t feel too bad about that. Even most artists need references!

Leave a Reply

(Enter your URL then click here to include a link to one of your blog posts.)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.