Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Are You a Visual Reader?

Confession: I'm a HUGELY visual reader. I'm a visual person in general, really. I'm a visual learner, I memorize by reading or seeing or looking at neat graphics, and I'm good at picturing abstract concepts in my head. Like, I'm good at remembering historical dates because I see them in a sort of timeline (do not ask me to explain it). I used to double check my arithmetic by "drawing" it out because numbers good, pictures bad. Visualosity is my jam.

Look, I'm basically psychic. NBD. Totes casj.

But most of all, I'm quite an imaginative person, which is both a blessing and a curse. When I read a book, I SEE it, like a little mini movie. I'm totally susceptible to descriptions of setting and character.  It means I really SEE characters if they're well-described (this comes in handy as a fan artist, obvs), and it means I can construct a whole world in my head if the author gives me enough details. It means I'm the kind of reader who quite likes to know the color and cut and fabric of the princess's gown, and how high the rafters in the castle are, and what color the light is through the stained glass windows and are the tapers black wax and how low have they burned and FORTY-FIVE YEARS LATER, Princess Whatsit is still sitting in that damn castle thinking about candlewax, and nothing has happened in the plot whatsoever. But it's OKAY because WE NEED TO SET THE STAGE.

Though, to be honest, it is nice when the author gives me just enough to form the basic shape, but still gives me enough freedom to fill in the details myself. J.K. Rowling is a genius at this. She gives you one or two landmark physical traits (ginger, lanky; frizzy hair, buckteeth; looks like a toad, dresses in pink) and then my brain is able generate the whole rest of the person to all on its own. Honestly. Magic.

But being that visual...well, it also means I can drown if the author gives me too much detail, because my brain's whizzing so fast to add it all into the picture and then we're hanging out with Princess Whatsit for a few centuries, getting nothing done. Or I get stuck if an author gives me a detail I don't like and then it's LODGED IN THERE FOREVE. (The mental gymnastics I have to perform to chop the ponytails off male love interests...) My active imagination also means I'm super good at imagining in real life worst case scenarios or embarrassing moments or serial killers behind the shower curtain, but that's a different issue for a different post.

Growing up, I assumed everyone read like me, picturing scenes so clearly they could even see the lighting and the freckles on the heroine's nose and the rip in her hem. And then I started blogging, and talking to other readers regularly, and realized...erm, nope.

(Sidenote... how weird/cool is reading? That a few words can make me hallucinate SO VIVIDLY that that collection of letters becomes a real person in my mind, so real that I can THEN translate that image onto paper? So real that it feels like I know them? BOOKS, WHAT MANNER OF DARKEST MAGIC ARE YOU, NEVER LEAVE US)

But yeah. Not all readers have little projectionists up in their brain, displaying story reel after story reel in full Technicolor. Apparently some of you guys don't picture faces at all. Or picture anything at all. I'd go on and say what it is like for non-visual readers, but I legit have no clue. (Please tell in the comments!)

Do you see tea leaves? OR DO YOU SEE THE GRIM?

Do you see little blobby smudges? Do all characters look like Noah Czerny to you? Or is everyone the Gray Man? Do you sort of see around them? Do you hear their voices? This is one area my mini movie doesn't always go. Pretty much everyone sounds like me in my head, even if they're British or male or not speaking English at all. It's part of why audiobooks tend to throw me.

Are you a visual reader? Do you see everything from faces to setting to wardrobe, like me? Or no faces at all? OR NOTHING AT ALL? Is it all words? And feelings? But how do you get the feelings if you don't see them kissing and dying and and and gahhh let me experience this!

Or are you saying to me "wtf, Gillian, THE WIND DOES NOT HAVE COLOR"


  1. I was just thinking about this a few MINUTES ago because while reading the author never ONCE described what anyone was wearing except that there were laces and boots at one point HELP ME I CAN'T SEE ANYTHING. I am SUCH a visual reader and I do not like gaps like that. I can deal with "shirt" if it's contemporary but fantasy?????

    It's soo weird to think there are people who don't vividly imagine everything they read. What do they do? How does it work? I don't understand it and I very look forward to the comments.

    1. SAME. My brain can fill in the spaces, but you need to give it enough so it can SEE the place! I want to know about clothes and style and ALL OF IT PLS

      I have noooooo idea what it's like to not see everything

  2. I am SUCH A VISUAL READER. Everything I see looks like a movie in my head, the settings, the action and "stage directions", the kissingggggg. The weird thing is I can't see the faces clearly unless I have an actor in mind. Like, now when I read Harry Potter I see the actors, which is fine with me. In general, HP was easier to visualize than some others. But most books, I can see the body, I can see the hair and face shape but the face itself is like my eyes can't land on it for long enough to describe it. I don't know if that makes sense at all lol. But it doesn't impede my reading or experience. And like I said on twitter, I think this is directly related to how detailed and visually expressive my dreams are. They are always on a MASSIVE scale setting wise and I can see so many places so clearly in my mind's eye, even if I can't describe it with words. My dreams are very movie-like. I'm curious what other people do too, like you and Bekka said! I don't hear voices too much, like St Clair didn't sound British in my head even though I wanted him to hahah. This is such a cool post!!!!! I'm glad we're on the same movie-reading page ;)

    1. YES! JUST LIKE A MOVIE! (esp the kissing <33)

      Ooo see I NEVER picture actors in my head! To me that's always a completely separate thing.

      DITTO WITH THE DREAMS!! They're always very visual and VERY expansive. Also they often have complicated plots because apparently I don't calm down even when I'm unconscious

  3. This is so interesting! I am pretty much the opposite of a visual reader. I don't "see" the characters or setting in my head. Occasionally I'll get a sort of sense/feeling/image here or there, but it's never very detailed. For example, I don't even have a picture in my head of Mr. Darcy, and he is my very favorite romantic hero from my very favorite book in all the world! "My" Mr. Darcy is tall (which is right there in the book) and dark-haired (which is not in the book, but come on, duh) and...that's it. Maybe I just don't have any imagination? IS MY BRAIN DEFECTIVE?! *panics*

    I'm actually finding it very hard to explain my reading experience! But I don't think it's less fun or rewarding than the experience of a visual reader. I am very capable of feeing ALL THE FEELINGS when a book has a great dramatic or terrifying or heartbreaking or swoonworthy moment. My brain just doesn't use images to convey those feelings to me. Maybe the words just go straight to my brain/heart/gut without being "translated" through pictures?

    Practically speaking, this means I don't like books with tons of descriptions. I don't really care what the setting looks like, except in the broadest sense (green meadow, fancy drawing room, dark forest, etc.). I don't like it when characters are described too specifically, because that sometimes conflicts with my own idea of them. (If I encounter a hero with a ponytail, my brain Photoshops it right out before I even have time to think about it!) And long action sequences bore me to tears: if I want to visualize what's going on, I have to map it all out very painstakingly, step by step, and I just don't care that much! The bottom line is that, for me, long descriptive passages get in the way of the story and the character development, which is what I'm really there for.

    Does any of this make sense? Is anyone else out there on Team Non-visual? I'm also curious to know if the Team Visual people are good at painting/drawing/etc. I'm a TERRIBLE visual artist, but quite a good musician!

    1. Finally someone who gets me. A lot of what you've said really resonated with me especially what you said about feeling THE FEELINGS. I'm put-off with books which have long winded descriptions about basically anything from character to background settings

  4. oh this is so interesting! I don't think I am a very visual reader but I don't what what it is I see! lol that's not very helpful haha

    1. It's so interesting how much it varies from person to person!

  5. I am the complete opposite of a visual reader but that doesn't mean that I don't appreciate descriptions but I do tend to skip paragraphs and even whole chapters in certain cases where somebody or some situation or some setting has been 'overtly'(I think)described. The funny thing is that till a few months back I hadn't known that there are people who love all those descriptions,and then my sister started reading the same books I do.
    The thing is that after reading a book she comes and discusses all the parts of the book she liked and disliked and while she was doing so she started going on and on describing the characters-what they looked like,what they were wearing,etc.. and that's when it hit me that there are people who while reading a book create a living, breathing world in their heads from the visual descriptions. While she, like you, uses visual cues given by the author to create the world in her mind, I actually prefer the feelings described(to a certain extent) and for some weird reason,smells. I actually vividly imagine smells, isn't that weird?
    (This might also explain why she is an amazing artist and I'm not.)
    But, while in her mind the voices of all the characters are more or less the same, I read in voices. So I actually prefer dialogue to descriptions.
    As mentioned earlier, if the author describes the situation too much, especially in the beginning of the book and dumps a whole lot of information on me, I tend to skim over a lot of what comes later and then I feel guilty because the author must've spent so much time painstakingly creating this world and here I am skipping all of it.
    It feels so good to get all of this out and actually see that there are people who are similar because usually when I talk to a person about this they don't get it at all.
    For some strange reason I seem to be smack dab in the middle of Visual-readerville.
    *le sigh*

    1. I definitely think there's a BALANCE to descriptions--like if they slow down the plot too much, I think they should go--but I do love them. I like how they explode in my mind's eye and paint a picture.

      It's funny how we all assume we read the same!

      " I actually prefer the feelings described(to a certain extent)" I mean, I definitely do too, but my brain can't help put attach visuals to everything. But if there's no feelings, it's JUST visuals, which obviously is not enough

      I also prefer dialogue to descriptions, since it's where you get characters, but I don't hear VOICES so much as... voices. That makes no sense. What I'm saying is I hear the voice of the character, but it always SOUNDS like a blank voice? ALSO MAKES NO SENSE. Okay. it's kind of like an audiobook--all the characters are read by the same person, but that one person forms them uniquely. I don't, like, hear a man's voice in my head when a male character speaks.

      Infodumps in the beginning are torturous for me too, no matter how visual I am :)

  6. This happened to come up a couple weeks ago at my place. My roommate Dave was complaining about authors who don't give good descriptions. He was fairly flabbergasted that I didn't have any real problems with it.

    It's not like I don't picture what's going on at all. But it's very impressionistic. I don't fill in lots of details, and when they're given, they appear, and then drop out of my mind again. It's kind of like everything works like the sword in the second half of the page here:

    I'd say... I see actions. Gestures. People moving around as they talk. Walking around.

    1. oooh, that's so interesting, framing it as seeing the ACTIONS, or the general SHAPE of the narrative. That makes a lot of sense!

  7. I love this post SO MUCH! I'm also a visual reader. I like descriptions - they don't seem tedious to me because I don't register the words, I absorbe them and transform them in a mini-movie. Even when there are no descriptions at all, I read with images, I invent a setting and wardrobes instantly. I do this with everything, not just books. Every word I seed/read/listen to instantly evokes an image in my brain. And I, too, thought everyone's brains worked like this until I met my boyfriend and we started talking about books and reading. Imagine my surprise when he told me he sees NOTHING AT ALL when he reads. He's not very good about explaining what it's like for him, but apparently his brain just hears the words, which are completely abstract for him but of course have full meaning. I just can't fathom how it's like not to have constant images in your head. And sometimes when he reads he also imagines different voices (which actually makes him a wonderful read aloud reader). On the other hand, he is bored by books with not enough dialogue and/or plot (action?), and I'm guessing that's because getting abstract concept after abstract concept when nothing is really happening can feel a bit dry if you don't have beautiful visuals going on at the same time. We humans are weird!

    1. "I don't register the words, I absorbe them and transform them in a mini-movie."

      YES! EXACTLY! I do the same! omg your brain sounds EXACTLY like mine! That's so interesting to hear how your boyfriend absorbs literature. I wonder what that's like.


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