“It’s like a movie in your head…”

Ray Zdybrow

Aging tousle-headed boy wizard
Joined
Jan 7, 2020
Messages
98
Location
Cupboard-Under-Stairs
…is a phrase people often use to explain why they enjoy reading fiction, and to encourage children and teenagers to read. I’d be interested to see what Chronners think about this. Do you agree?
For a long time I had a niggling feeling that I SHOULD experience a story in that way, but I don’t – I usually have only vague visual impressions of the characters and the action.
So when you read a story, do you see the action unfold in your mind’s eye, like a film? Do you imagine characters and settings clearly, as if you could see them? Do you hear voices and “sound effects” consistent with what you’re reading? And if not, what?
 

Margaret Note Spelling

There's always a bigger fish to fry.
Joined
Sep 10, 2019
Messages
291
Location
The Heart of Nowhere
I do see the action like a film, camera positions and all, but with some very odd editing--and that's where writing style enters into the picture, because the writing can only focus on one thing at a time. while film can show it to you all at once. Dialogue, action, description, character thoughts. Lots of choices. Some writers lean more towards lots of description in their work, and that would be like a slow lingering look at the world around the character. Others focus on the characters thoughts, and then you're being shown the world inside the characters' heads, instead of the physical world. Or it can be a mix. In a book, the camera is always moving. The perspective can change, the time can lapse, we can fast-forward across days or focus in on slow-motion details. There can be telling, as well as showing. But yes, it's not clear-cut--it can be very vague impressions sometimes, and always subject to change. Rarely detailed. It's more like a dream-world than anything else. If something occurs to you, whatever it is, reality easily adapts. You could imagine a character sitting down, but if the next paragraph describes them standing and pouring wine, your mind edits that in without a problem.

As far as "hearing" sound effects and voices, yes and no. It's much like the mind's eye--seeing without seeing--only the mind's ear--hearing without hearing. You can hear how the characters would say something. You can imagine experiencing the relevant sound effects as you read that they happen--the whistle of an arrow, the cry of a crow. But again, it's vague enough that you can change it in your mind any way you want, depending on context and the next words you read. It can be like a movie in your mind, but you're not passively receiving this movie, you're actively constructing it, tweaking it, changing it, based on what you read--and it keeps its form even after you've read the words. The reader has so much creative control over this movie.

It's part of why I like the experience of reading audiobooks aloud. You're focusing on and connecting to those undefined sights and sounds you're imagining, and translating it out into emotion, speech, and real sound. You're taking the voice you hear in your own head and trying to be that for another person. It's why listening to an audiobook will never be the same kind of experience as reading. And watching a movie will never be the same kind of experience as reading a book. Imagination plays such a large part--and it's the individual kind of creative, interpretive control you have over your imagination that will determine what your experience is like. One thing I promise you, it will never be like anyone else's. There's no single way you SHOULD experience a book, so as long as you enjoy it (and aren't experiencing any problems with understanding it!), I really wouldn't worry about it a bit.
 
Last edited:

Guttersnipe

logolept
Joined
Dec 28, 2019
Messages
403
Location
Limbo
I used to be able to visualize scenes more clearly, but I've never been able to "see" a character. I too basically have vague impressions in my mind when reading. For me, characters are just abstract ideas that help convey the story--which is why, when a person's facial expressions are described, I get confused.
 

Droflet

I don't teach chickens how to dance.
Joined
Apr 15, 2010
Messages
3,097
Location
Australia
I think all people who read have an image in their minds. You don't need quadraphonic sound or anything else. Just your imagination.
 

Ray Zdybrow

Aging tousle-headed boy wizard
Joined
Jan 7, 2020
Messages
98
Location
Cupboard-Under-Stairs
Thanks for the detailed response! BTW I don't worry about it any more - apparently there are people who don't visualise at all, ever (the "condition" is called aphantasia) - it's not so unusual.
I only have problems with things where directions are important (e.g.“Seeing the spaceship coming in low from the East, she ran to the left, and jumped up onto the large rock in the shadow of the south-Western end of the mountain range.” I know I’m supposed to understand the significance of the character’s actions, but I don’t, because I don’t have any clear idea of the terrain that’s been described to me previously).

I like what you wrote about "editing" your imagination as more details become apparent.
...you're not passively receiving this movie, you're actively constructing it, tweaking it, changing it, based on what you read--and it keeps its form even after you've read the words.
is absolutely spot on.

Also, yes, it really does depend on the writer. Stephen King is one writer who does stimulate my visual imagination more than others, and a lot of his stuff has been filmed, so maybe he has that effect on others too?
 

Venusian Broon

Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity
Supporter
Joined
Dec 7, 2011
Messages
4,670
Location
Edinburgh
…is a phrase people often use to explain why they enjoy reading fiction, and to encourage children and teenagers to read. I’d be interested to see what Chronners think about this. Do you agree?
For a long time I had a niggling feeling that I SHOULD experience a story in that way, but I don’t – I usually have only vague visual impressions of the characters and the action.
So when you read a story, do you see the action unfold in your mind’s eye, like a film? Do you imagine characters and settings clearly, as if you could see them? Do you hear voices and “sound effects” consistent with what you’re reading? And if not, what?
SHOULD is a strong term :). As someone wiser than me has stated (for a much more serious subject): a person who tells you what to think is not your friend. ;)

But, your reading process is your own; as long as you enjoy it, I wouldn't worry!

For myself, if fiction is working well, then the physical process of reading words on a page gets kicked to the background. Sometimes even I can go hundreds of pages, stop, and then not have a single recent memory of actually 'reading' the symbols on the page. Bad writing, on the other hand pushes the mechanics of interpreting the symbols to the fore as I clutter to a stop when reading bad grammar, terrible sentences and other problematic occurences.

Instead, my experience of good writing is more like a complex memory or perhaps better put, a rich daydream. Visuals and sounds inspired by the fiction, yes, but a wealth of interconnections of other memories (of personal visuals/scenes, sounds, even smells and other odd sensations!) and also big ideas, some put their by the author (in ways that movies just can't), but many 'inserted' by my mind by the flow of ideas and descriptions that I'm absorbing.

Exceptional fiction further gives me the impression that I am actually somehow observing some sort of approximation of the mental states of the author when he was thinking and writing. I can feel like I'm sitting in his/her head!

So maybe I'd put it, that writing is about sharing and transmitting human mental states - and everyone seems to have slightly different perceptions and thought processes?
 

Ray Zdybrow

Aging tousle-headed boy wizard
Joined
Jan 7, 2020
Messages
98
Location
Cupboard-Under-Stairs
writing is about sharing and transmitting human mental states
I think you have it!

Perhaps people prioritise different modes when describing a "mental state", some prioritising visual, some auditory, some the feeling of movement (even though we all do feel everything).

Fiction tries to show us how it feels.

BTW
Sometimes even I can go hundreds of pages, stop, and then not have a single recent memory of actually 'reading' the symbols on the page
Imagine if your memory of a story was the sequence of letters on the page!
 

Venusian Broon

Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity
Supporter
Joined
Dec 7, 2011
Messages
4,670
Location
Edinburgh
Perhaps people prioritise different modes when describing a "mental state", some prioritising visual, some auditory, some the feeling of movement (even though we all do feel everything).
Absolutely! Everyone is different. I know someone who swears she has never dreamt in her life. I thought everyone dreamt at night in some capacity, yet she swore there was nothing. I can't really imagine not have a conception of what happens to me every night in bed!

Personally I think her memories of dreams were so 'weak' that she always forgets everything when she wakes, but to consistently forget every morning is standout! And a shame as dreams can be fun :). Even so, if you do always forget, then that means you do not have any conscious experience of dreaming, so it is a big difference.
 

Teresa Edgerton

Goblin Princess
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 1, 2004
Messages
14,472
Location
California
It depends on the book. I like best the ones that do play out much like movies in my head (only better, because they give access to the characters' inner lives at the same time). Books where the scenes and characters are too murky or vague don't appeal to me.
 
Top