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Close your eyes. Picture a beach, or a scene from one of your favourite books.
For most of you this activity involves seeing an image. Some will have hyper-detailed images in front of them, others will run a wide spectrum of “image quality”. I see black. That is all. If I try extremely hard I might get a sort of image of some lines of lighter black. Sometimes if I try to visualize with my eyes open I almost feel like I can bring an actual image to mind, but it requires real effort of will to do so – and it is barely there in any meaningful way. This doesn’t mean I don’t understand what those things look like – I don’t see them, but I do “get” what they look like.
Our inner eye runs on a spectrum, I believe I am on the pretty far non-visual end of it. This condition was recently dubbed Aphantasia. Until I read this article http://www.bbc.com/news/health-34039054 a couple years ago, I had no idea my experience was really any different than anyone else’s.
I do not visualize as I read. I get the concepts in a different way - that I find hard to describe. Perhaps it could be considered more verbal – but it isn’t that I hear them.
I actually avoid images in things like text books unless I need to review them, I ignore them in favour of the text content.
I don’t care about descriptive elements of a story UNLESS they have bearing on character development, plot development, or are important for more than setting a visual space for the reader.
An extended description of a complex arrangement of character positions/room elements, or action elements, without very strong hooks to emotion/purpose/tone will leave me completely lost and will suck me right out of the story.
Any book with a lot of the above will either go on the “unfinished” pile, or will go on the “how dull” pile. I find it intriguing that an author who hopes to enliven their work by painting a detailed world can leave me with the exact opposite experience.
I will always try to give the author the heads up that I am not visual – so to take my commentary on description from that point of view.
Often, I will ask for relevance hooks in any block of description. I want to know why it matters and will point out when that doesn’t feel present to me.
First drafts are almost completely absent any kind of scene settings and almost never contain any physical descriptions of characters unless it is relevant to the action/plot/character arc etc. This unfortunately leaves you visual types feeling the way I feel when there is a lot of complex description.
Critiques are vital in helping me recognize the places where the lack of description is a particular problem. Critique comments generally fall into two categories for me, ones I understand and ones I don’t think I will ever fully comprehend.
When I hear that it affects the reader’s ability to follow the flow. For example, a setting I haven’t described leaves a reader surprised by something (i.e. character moving or changing position when I didn’t establish their initial position).
When they just want to know what the place looks like, so they can picture it – that is where I fall short of full comprehension. I honestly, and truly don’t understand why they care, I can try to understand it on an academic/intellectual level – but I can’t really connect with that desire.
When something needs a visual description because of a story requirement, I think I occasionally come up with a pretty good little descriptive piece (even on a first draft). But, it will almost always contain the minimal amount of detail.
My writing will never fall into the highly descriptive category. I will still leave it almost completely up to my readers to imagine how the characters look, what colour a room is and all those details. Except when some piece of it is important to the tale I hope to share. Then I will try to paint a word picture that I can’t see.