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!