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01 June 2006 @ 08:52 pm
visualizing  
I've had all kinds of fun conversations today. One was about perceived popularity. I'm going to write about that later, but right now I've gotten into the visualization conversation on Too, and I think it's completely fascinating, so I'm going to talk about that instead.

I discovered about three years ago that people see pictures in their heads. When they read, when they listen to music, when they're told stories, they get pictures in their heads.

I do not get pictures in my head. Not when I'm reading, not when I'm writing, not when I listen to music. I had *no idea* that people did. It was a stagger-worthy shock when I realized that Fantasia was based on the idea that people *saw stories in their heads* when they listened to all that music.

*No one* in my immediate family had any idea people did. Dad said he'd have taught many classes differently if he'd known that. I remembered a drama class visualization exercise where we were supposed to visualize we were lying on a white beach with the blue sky above, and palm trees and all that sort of thing, and it bent my brain to think that probably two thirds of the people in the class were *actually seeing that*.

They say to succeed at sports, you have to visualize the win. I had no idea they meant literally. Sure, I can talk myself through it, but actually *see* it? Buh. No.

Ted was astounded, because my writing makes clear pictures in his head, and he couldn't imagine how I did that if *I* wasn't seeing pictures in my head.

The answer is by working really, really hard.



The horse made more sense now, for some nebulous value of the word sense. It had been able to rear up because after it kicked me in the chest it had torn out the entire door structure, and part of the roof had fallen down. The rest of the roof was on fire. I wasn't sure how that had happened, but it didn't seem to bother the horse.

Horse is such a limited word. The beast in the diner had the grace and delicacy of an Arabian and the size of a Clydesdale, multiplied by two. It shimmered a watery grey, bordering on silver, the color so fluid I thought I might be able to dip my hand in it. Despite myself, my gaze jerked up to its forehead. There was no spiral horn sprouting there, but I wouldn't have been surprised if there had been. It was Plato's horse, the ideal upon which all others are based.

It was trying to kill me, and all I could do was admire it.

Then it screamed, shrill and deep all at once. The blonde behind the counter shut up, but I screamed back, a sort of primal response without any thought behind it.

Just for a moment, everything stopped.

There was a rider astride the grey, arrested in motion by my scream. He wore grey himself, so close to the color of the horse I could barely tell where one ended and the other began. The reputed Native American belief that white men on horseback were one exotic creature suddenly seemed very plausible.

The rider turned his head slowly and looked at me. His hair was brown, peppered with starlight, and crackled with life, as if touching it would bring an electric shock. It swept back from a massively sharp widow's peak, and was held in place by a circlet. His face was a pale narrow line, all high cheekbones and deep-set eyes and a long straight nose.

The impression he left was of living silver. I locked eyes with him, expecting to see that liquid silver again. Instead I met wild-fire green, a vicious, inhuman color, promising violence.

He smiled and reached out a hand, inviting me towards him. His mouth was beautiful, thin and expressive, the curve of teeth unnervingly sharp, like a predator's. I pushed up the counter, using it to brace myself, and wet my lips. Marie was right. I was going to die. The rider wanted my soul and I was going to give it to him without a fight because of that smile and those inhuman eyes. I took a step towards him.



That scene, those paragraphs, took me about six hours to write. Not all at once, but going back and staring and thinking and crafting and working as hard as I could to get all the words right. The penultimate and antepenultimate paragraphs there took me about four hours of work alone. Remember that I write, on average, about a thousand words an hour. Description is *not easy* for me. And I find it utterly fascinating that apparently something like two thirds of people see pictures in their heads.

This clarified something that had been puzzling me for years, when I learned it. There's a scene in EMILY CLIMBS, the second book of the Emily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery, in which Emily is talking to a man whose son has died. The man can't remember what the boy looks like, because he isn't like other people, and can't bring images to mind.

My entire life, I had always thought that was a weird little scene. I mean, not like I spent nights awake because it actively bothered me, but it's always bugged me a little. Like, what did that mean, bringing images to mind? Like people *did* that or something? *snort*

Me, I can't hold an image in my head for more than an instant. Ted, otoh, can apparently call up a specific person or thing, hold the image in his mind, do a 3D rotate on it...bizarre beyond belief.

(At Writer's Weekend a few years ago I put this question ("Do you visualize?") to the 40 people in the room with me and shadowhwk. Every single one of them raised their hands. I said, "You all are *weird*," and only realized when several people laughed and pointed out I was the oddball there that I was, er, well, the oddball. But being me, I persisted in thinking *they* were weird.)

So tell me: do you visualize? If so, can you do the 3D image thing? If you're a writer, what happens in your head while you're writing? Are there pictures? Do you keep images in your mind when you write them? If you visualize, do you like poetry? What *kind* of poetry?
 
 
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-: Household Gods - John Waterhousepeartreealley on June 1st, 2006 07:58 pm (UTC)
I can, with much effort, visualize, but not generally, and not for terribly long.

Things usually come to me in words. When people talking about seeing a scene in their head, it's usually coming at me in sentences and paragraphs, like someone is talking to me.

Paperback Writer talks about how she visualizes a scene from beginning to end (and, actually, said she does most of her planning by visualizing and holding it in her head, too), and I tried and tried, and I can't do either. I've got to write it down. Not because I won't remember it otherwise, but because that's how it forms to me.

Which is why I brainstorm better if I can write down what I'm thinking.

Huh.

Thanks, I suddenly make more sense to me now ;)
S. L. Grayshadowhwk on June 1st, 2006 08:05 pm (UTC)
What she didn't mention is that I raised my hand too. And we wrote together at the time. No idea how that worked.

Yes, I visualize. I can do the 3-d image rotate. I play movies in my mind when imagining scenes. Which is why I get very frustrated when I can't convey the image onto the page.

Temple jacks and downloadable thoughts, man. It's the wave of the future.
kitmizkit on June 1st, 2006 08:08 pm (UTC)
What it *really* doesn't explain is why *I* wrote the 12 page snowstorm...
(no subject) - shadowhwk on June 1st, 2006 08:11 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mizkit on June 1st, 2006 08:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Ghost Light: Meghost_light on June 1st, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC)
I do visualize, and I am able to manipulate images in my head. My mom is not as good at it as I am, so she would always make me come in to "pre-see" what a room would look like before she started rearranging the furniture. That was my first hint that I was very good at visualizing and imagining things.

When I wrote and when I played on Mushes or chats I was generally able to see what my characters looked like and the setting around them. As an actress, I make choices based on how I think the character should look, not just on my physical self. For example, one of my Ren Fair characters walks very differently than I do, I just think of her as being heavier and having a more rolling walk and I bring that out. Another character was hyper-nervous and I chewed at my fingers and fingernails the whole time I was on stage even though I cannot STAND nail-biting in my real life.

I do like poetry, but I mostly read and remember writers like Shel Silverstein, Emily Dickenson and Siegfried Sassoon.
debela on June 1st, 2006 08:47 pm (UTC)
I don't visualize. My husband does, and so I have done unto him as was done unto you - and it's incredibly useful.

Kit knows this, but I'm just stating it for the record: I don't visualize at all and I rarely hear voices if at all. This is incredibly frustrating if I'm drawing, because if I don't have a model, I'm not entirely sure what I'm doing until it comes out on the page. (I know: I'm drawing a woman! I don't necessarily know *which* woman, for example.)

It's not that I don't know the facts - I can break them down and I'm aware of the component traits and can describe them to someone, but I can't see it in my head. It's a purely intellectual interaction. I determined arbitrary traits for my characters, but I didn't visualize them, which led to a lot of looking at pictures of other people to isolate which bits struck me right, for example. (This is how Kit got me to watch LFN, in fact.)
jesshartleyjesshartley on June 1st, 2006 08:07 pm (UTC)
I write like I knit, weaving sentence by sentence, word by word, together. I can /somewhat/ visualize specific things... a gesture... a snapshot... a blow.. But I don't see things mentally well in three dimensions (Pat has to draw things out for me when we're talking about changes to the yard or the like, and it's /magic/ for me when pieces of a pattern or three dimensional craft project actually change from 2-d to 3-d).

annathepiper on June 1st, 2006 08:20 pm (UTC)
This sounds pretty close to how it works for me. I tend to be able to visualize things in bits and pieces--and generally I visualize my characters better if I've 'cast' them as someone in my head, someone who I've seen in real life and whose expressions I can easily bring to mind. If I haven't done that 'casting', I only get the bits and pieces.

Same deal with surroundings... I have to construct it bit by bit and if I try to visualize it, it comes out sort of dreamlike in my consciousness. When I actually convert that into words, I look for the words that feel right. But there's not necessarily a connection between that and a picture I've built in my head.
(no subject) - mizkit on June 1st, 2006 08:28 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - annathepiper on June 1st, 2006 10:14 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - chrysoula on June 2nd, 2006 01:56 am (UTC) (Expand)
das_uberdas_uber on June 1st, 2006 08:08 pm (UTC)
do you visualize? If so, can you do the 3D image thing?

Yes and yes. I had no idea that anyone didn't do this. Wild. This is actually the main way that I figure out how something works and remember it.
Lauraskeagsidhe on June 1st, 2006 08:14 pm (UTC)
Can I visualize? Yes. It's a force of effort and usually more for "seeing" patterns in data than anything else (yes, I'm a freak that way). There are exceptions-- there are a few random places that I can pop into my head no problem.

Do I visualize when I read? No. When I listen to music? EXTREMELY rarely-- there are about 3 pieces of music where I get not so much a visual as a feel of fire or swooping down in high places. But as a rule? No visualization for me. It's like the words go straight through to the meaning part of the brain without first passing through the visual or auditory parts (to use the non-technical terms). This has led to interesting spirituality discussions with the husband-beast about the need to personify or otherwise visualize deities or other outside forces. But I digress...
dancinghorsedancinghorse on June 1st, 2006 08:34 pm (UTC)
Yes!

Do you get impatient with people who name their machines?
(no subject) - mizkit on June 1st, 2006 09:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - skeagsidhe on June 2nd, 2006 12:11 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Tripspace_parasite on June 1st, 2006 08:27 pm (UTC)
Mm, tasty exotic brains!
dancinghorse: scritchdancinghorse on June 1st, 2006 08:33 pm (UTC)
I write by feel. And kinesthesia. Visuals seem clunky. When people tell me to visualize, I always ask, "Why? Can't I just feel it?"

I can make myself do the 3-D thing but would rather just feel my way around it and get the shape inside me and play with the other senses. Visuals for me are a sort of shorthand to the way things smell, taste, sound, or feel.

I think I may be weirder than you....
Chrysoulachrysoula on June 2nd, 2006 02:04 am (UTC)
Yes! Touch! People have 'feels' inside! Rooms have echoes that describe their size! And the feel of the floor against bare feet! And words have a shape that is distinct (but related) to their meaning.

My husband always mocks me because I never notice physical visual details around us. But I spend a whole lot of time touching things as I wander by them.

I am weirded out by the way that I can only summon up images of people I know by recalling visual inputs that have been disconnected from the relationship: photographs I've handled are much easier than digital images, too. It's like turning something into a photograph and linking it to some other input allows me to process visual data in a new way.

No wonder I had so many problems when I was trying to be an artist... I always wanted to draw things photo-realistic, and I was never satisfied with anything I drew without a visual model, and even the stuff with models I was nitpicky about... but when I would occasionally loosen up to draw much more cartoony/stick-figure representations, I'd absolutely LOVE those.
(no subject) - jennifer_dunne on June 2nd, 2006 04:39 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Nathanyfel on June 1st, 2006 08:43 pm (UTC)
Boy do I ever
I visualize. I see scenes from books, for example. When people are talking to me, I often see the text of what they are saying as if it were coming across a scrolling display. From what I gather, most people don't have this mental court stenographer thing going on.

I mostly see abstract representations of music I listen to. Shapes and colors, lines and movement. Vibrations. Textures. Kind of like WinAmp visualization plugins, but I've been doing it as long as I can remember. If the lyrics tell a story, sometimes I see the imagery of the story playing out. It may be a mild form of synaesthesia, but I'm not sure. How I would go about checking for sure is anyone's guess. Certain ideas and concepts also have textures and colors to me, so I guess that's it.

In particular I tend to visualize my work -- I'm an engineer, and I definitely do the 3D rotate thing a lot. I mentally see graphs of charge on capacitors and I see function calls in programming code as, well, a sort of foldy-jumpy thing I can't adequately describe. I tend to imagine heat flow as something like an IR camera view of an object.

When I read about the structure of networked systems like the p2p system Freenet, I very often have dreams where I am trapped inside a vast visualization of whatever the network is. In the Freenet case, I dreamt all night that I was a packet being repeatedly reencrypted and routed through their network via their crazy protocol.

So yeah, I visualize.
Alix (Tersa): Writing (tersa)tersa on June 1st, 2006 08:43 pm (UTC)
I visualize
(Sorta like 'I pinch', but different, but then again, you may not have seen those Honda Element ads over there in Ireland, so that joke may have just flopped like a lead balloon...)

Anyway. :) I visualize. When I read, it is not in outstanding, 3-D 'movie in my mind' clarity, but more impressionistic, unless the author has invested a goodly number of words to describe something, or to "paint a picture with words". Then, the process of reading through all those words actually creates a stronger image in my head.

But when I'm writing myself? I can see the characters move in their environment, and that level of detail frequently translates into my writing, to the point where windrose beats me over the head for being "too purple" (she, OTOH, is a very minimalistic writer. By practice, though, not by inclination).

What's funny? I think I would be capable of rattling off those paragraphs you exampled in about 20 minutes, but I don't believe they would be nearly as evocative or well-written as your six hours of laborious work. And those paragraphs really *are* strongly evocative of an image, for those of us who do so. So, kudos for that. :)

(And I remember that discussion at WW. It continues to fascinate me that there are people out there who *don't* visualize at all, and is just as informative as your epiphany the other direction!)

Cori R.: Bookszhaneel on June 1st, 2006 08:46 pm (UTC)
That actually explains the odd visualizations I get from your books. Most of the book is very 'sketchy' in my mind with only one portion actually in focus or animated. Sometimes, it's just the voice of the character -- though the internal garden scenes and Gary are very vivid. I wonder if that's because you don't visualize?

I don't consciously see the words on the page when I read, all I see is the story unfolding in my mind in full color and motion, right down to the grass blowing. However, that being said, I do remember locations of specific text on the page, even though I don't remember actually 'seeing' it.

On long car rides, I usually do visualization games with myself - crafting a specific object until it is absolutely perfect. I've folded origami in my mind, spotlighting it and rotating it 360 degrees as the folds are made.

I can't, however, visualize anything with music or audio, which is why I can't stand books-on-tape. It's just a string of words then and I usually tune it out to think my own thoughts. Poetry doesn't do a lot for me (I usually work on understanding what the author is trying to say), but there are a few that do produce strong images and consequently, strong impressions (Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen springs to mind).
kit: writingmizkit on June 1st, 2006 09:08 pm (UTC)
That actually explains the odd visualizations I get from your books. Most of the book is very 'sketchy' in my mind with only one portion actually in focus or animated. Sometimes, it's just the voice of the character -- though the internal garden scenes and Gary are very vivid. I wonder if that's because you don't visualize?

Almost certainly. I've, hm. Become more aware of focusing on description and the like, having learned that people actually pay attention to that stuff (for what are presumably obvious reasons, I /don't/; for me it's always been just sort of eye-rolling, "Ok ok I get it the room is crowded with stuff can we get back to the story?" tedious information). I don't know that it's made a significant impact on my writing yet, though I do find myself thinking that maybe I need to put in a little more detail about the room or the park or the whatever. And when that happens I try to do it, but man, to me it feels like stuffing unnecessary words into what would otherwise be a perfectly fine paragraph.

And along those lines, I tend to think of my writing style as being efficient: get in, tell the story, get out; don't waste time with details that aren't driving the story forward. I want the details I show to tell you something about the character. The rest of it is, to me, utterly superfluous, but it turns out the rest of it to many other people keeps characters from standing around in a bare room with four unpainted walls.

Who knew?
(no subject) - zhaneel on June 1st, 2006 09:28 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mizkit on June 1st, 2006 09:31 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - janne on June 2nd, 2006 10:21 am (UTC) (Expand)
UrsulaVursulav on June 1st, 2006 09:01 pm (UTC)
Nope! And I'm an artist!

If I get an image in my head at all, it's a...hmm....kind of like flipping at high speed through channels on a TV. I get the briefest blur. I can call up that brief blur again, sometimes, but if I attempt to look closely at any part of it, it dissolves completely. Rotate it? Feh, crazy talk.

I may have a fairly solid idea of how a painting is supposed to go, mind you, but it's not a picture in my head, it's more like...mm...knowing how to drive to the store, I suppose. "Turn left here, turn right here, go straight through this light, here we go, take a left." I don't SEE the trip as a roadmap in my head with my car as a moving dot, and I don't SEE the painting. I just know how you get there from here.

Mostly, I think in words. So does my mother, also an artist. (We've had this conversation before.) Painting, to a certain extent, is all about trial and error--"This isn't right. This isn't right. This isn't right. This is less wrong. Bingo! There we go."

Artistically, this isn't particularly frustrating for me, oddly enough, because while people talk about how frustrating it is that this didn't look like the picture in their head, when you don't have one, it's a lot easier to be satisfied. It's only when you get an image that you know has a way that will look right, but you don't know how to get there, and you have to extract it from your skull through trial and error and whimpering, that it gets frustrating.
kitmizkit on June 1st, 2006 09:09 pm (UTC)
Turn left here, turn right here, go straight through this light, here we go, take a left." I don't SEE the trip as a roadmap in my head with my car as a moving dot, and I don't SEE the painting. I just know how you get there from here.

*Exactly*.
Kate Kirbykirbyk on June 1st, 2006 09:03 pm (UTC)
I absolutely visualize when I read. I think this is why I'm a slower reader than, say, you, or diony, or my crazy English major friend who once read a novel in half an hour while having a conversation with me. (Not a dense or long novel, but still. And she retained the knowledge when I quizzed her, unbelieving.) It probably takes me, I don't know, 10-12 hours to read through a book like Urban Shaman, but a lot of that is me stopping and looking around. :-) Which is even more amusing, knowing that I'm looking around a place that you created but didn't see that way.

I'm not a Writer, but I sometimes write, and I do have visual (and, more importantly for me, audial) imagery in my head. I really know what my characters sound like.

I do like some poetry, and not others, but I haven't read enough to be able to formalize the rules. I like a good rhythm, like a Robert Frost, though. Some writers have a poetic command of language that does enthrall me - Guy Gavriel Kay, Patricia McKillip - but I tend to prefer the crisper, simpler tones that read aloud well of a Neil Gaiman or C.E. Murphy. So, even though I visualize, I still get the idea of beautiful language. But getting too flowery and purple of prose does often annoy me. I guess I like the top 1% of complex language, and the top 10% of clear descriptive language.

I'm also an excellent speller.
Mr. Zamboni: zambonimisterzamboni on June 1st, 2006 09:06 pm (UTC)
I visualize almost everything. I have to "see" things before I can describe them, or even remember details about them sometimes. But everything is visually related, so it balances out. I even seem to visualize memories where I can't remember what everything looked like exactly, but all the details are attached to the "image" of the event. Finding my keys seems to involve picturing my keys and sort of pulling back until I can see where I last saw them.

Not only can I "look" at all sides of something I'm visualizing, I can relate it to other things I've seen or place it in a different context and "see" how it looks. I'm also good with distances and spatial relationships - I remember how to get somewhere by visualizing the route.

If I'm writing something (usually documentation these days *shrug*), I have to at least picture the outline first. Someday I'd like to be able to draw out the pictures in my head when I design software.

I like poetry. But usually it's very abstract images. Unless it's something narrative like Robert Service.

I think having a photographic memory would be keen, but unfortunately, I don't. I do have a good eye for level, plumb, distance, size, etc. though. I can work quite well symbolically (math, programming, etc.), but I think my brain kicks into visual mode whenever possible. I definitely form images and even scenes in my head when I read. High praise from me about a movie adapted from a book is that it *looks* like the characters/scenes from the books.

kitmizkit on June 1st, 2006 09:11 pm (UTC)
High praise from me about a movie adapted from a book is that it *looks* like the characters/scenes from the books.

Absolutely. Peculiarly, even though I don't visualize, I can tell you if I think an actor cast in a book part "looks" right. As ursulav said up above, "I can't see it, but I *know* it."
(Deleted comment)
kitmizkit on June 1st, 2006 09:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

Ok, the number of writers who aren't visualizers is interesting to me. I have *no* idea what I would be dominant as. Verbal, I suspect, but I don't know what that would really equate to...
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - mizkit on June 2nd, 2006 08:41 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on June 2nd, 2006 12:22 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - skeagsidhe on June 2nd, 2006 12:36 pm (UTC) (Expand)