Chances are whether you’re reading or writing about something visual, you picture it in your mind’s eye. A “red car” or “dust dancing in shafts of sunlight” or “Anton ducked the flying plate that Marla hurled at his head.” Also, you probably don’t need for your mother to be present in order to “see” her face. Well, I envy you. I can’t see pictures in my head.
I first became aware of this deficit about 20 years ago. I had a roommate, and sometimes we’d drive to dinner in her car. After eating, come time to go back to the car, I wouldn’t know what color car to look for. (Full disclosure: this happened more than once.) Finally I told myself the car was black–it was the word, not a visual, that anchored it in my mind.
It came home to me that I was different from most people when I tried hypnosis to quit smoking. The hypnotist gave up on me & referred me to a colleague who got me into a trance with auditory suggestions.
So this challenges me as a reader & writer. Reading words doesn’t automatically conjure images for me. Somehow I imagine, but it’s not in pictures. As a writer, this really gets interesting. I imagine in words & have referent “images” I call upon. These may be images from my own experience that I put into words in my head at the time of the experience or they may come indirectly from other writers’ words. It helps, too, that I can search online for images & videos, then put into words what I’m seeing.
Visually describing characters can be fun & challenging. For my work-in-progress Compromise With Sin (which I plan to publish in a few months) I had a picture of Ashley Judd as reference for my protagonist, Louise. But after working with a graphic designer on the book’s cover, I gave Louise “hazel eyes set a bit too wide, a somewhat determined jaw, and blonde hair that resembled excelsior in the humidity.”
I just learned that in 2015, my “moderately rare” condition got a name: “aphantasia.” What goes on in your mind when you read or write? Leave a comment.