May 25, 2020, 04:14:46 PM

Author Topic: Aphantasia & Writing  (Read 603 times)

Offline NedMarcus

Aphantasia & Writing
« on: April 02, 2020, 02:47:35 PM »
There's an interesting discussion on the Fantasy Faction FB group centred around an article on aphantasia by Mark Lawrence

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/apr/01/being-an-author-with-aphantasia-mark-lawrence

I'm the same. I was shocked when I first discovered that most people can actually, literally think in images. And often in colour, too. I can't do this at all, and perhaps it's one reason I'm bad at remembering faces. The discussion started me thinking about how I write because there are writers who say they can't imagine writing without internal visual imagery.

I think I have a good imagination, but it's not based on sensory imagery. It's more a sort of knowing (when I'm writing) and a feeling of vibration or rhythm of the words and sentences. Hard to describe. I'm curious what experiences others have of this—not only people with degrees of aphantasia. Could you imagine writing without literal visual imagery?

Offline Yora

Re: Aphantasia & Writing
« Reply #1 on: April 02, 2020, 03:19:35 PM »
I'm definitely creating scenes like a cinematographer. I'm just way too lazy to work in film. I'm even too lazy to practice doing concept art to illustrate my stories, even though I think that has great potential with a digital medium.
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Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: Aphantasia & Writing
« Reply #2 on: April 02, 2020, 04:14:17 PM »
Oh, this interests me. I first found out a couple of years ago that aphantasia was a thing. My immediate reaction was that "perhaps this is why some people don't like fiction books," because to me, reading and writing were intricately tied in with the mind's eye.

But I've come to understand that people with aphantasia can both read and write fiction. I find the idea difficult to grasp. I'm not questioning the fact, but I'm very curious to find out more about the experience of reading and writing fiction with aphantasia.

I believe the ability to visualise is on a spectrum, like most mental traits. And I'm pretty sure I'm in the high end of "phantasia", as it were. Someone posted this test on my Twitter timeline:



The thing is, when someone tells me to visualise a red star, I see a fully formed picture of space with a burning red star (and probably about a second later, I'm seeing a fleet of spaceships and start wondering if it belongs to humans or some alien race, and what their culture might be like...) The idea to just imagine some drab stick figure doesn't even cross my mind.

Obviously, imagination isn't tied down to visualisation. And I can somewhat understand that there's a separate part of my own creativity that doesn't require imagery. But I would find any further descriptions of both the process of reading and the process of creative writing from someone with aphantasia very interesting. In part because of the general curiosity of a writer, and in part because I'm studying storytelling and trying to write something up about my findings, and it would be interesting to make a connection there.

When I write I certainly visualise the scenes, but I'm also acutely aware that I can't just write them out as I see them because writing and film are different media. Capturing the essence of something with a description requires using a few details, the more specific the better, that connect into something bigger "on their own" (or rather, this happens in our mind, which is great at filling out blanks if you give it the right stepping stones).

Anyway, I would love to know more! Ned (and any aphantasiacs (that's a word, right?)), feel free to elaborate as much as you can on your experiences. Perhaps try to think about it the next time you read and write. I too am trying to be more aware of my mental landscape when I read and write in order to gain a better understanding of "our minds on fiction".

tl;dr Tell me more about aphantasia and fiction!
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Re: Aphantasia & Writing
« Reply #3 on: April 02, 2020, 04:36:47 PM »
That test is very interesting, because I got 4, 5 at a push. Colours don't seem to exist in my imagination!
For example, when people ask if I dream in colour or black and white, that's not even the right question, because I don't see the colours, but it doesn't look like 'black and white' either, it's just the things.

I'm also interested to know how you imagine your stories, then... is it a question of planning? Now I understand what Mark meant when he said "he simply writes and discovers where the stories/characters go"
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Offline bdcharles

Re: Aphantasia & Writing
« Reply #4 on: April 02, 2020, 04:47:07 PM »
Could you imagine writing without literal visual imagery?

After reading the article I'm a bit jealous. How cool would it be, on being asked to picture "a horse", to instead be greeted with a vast intercollected meshwork of horsey concepts rather than this generic brown nag I'm looking at rn? But don't pity me just yet; I can readily expand it at will. I am invoking a track to ride down (it's got two wheel-tracks of grey, similar-sized, vaguely triangularishly-shaped stones mined from a quarry somewhere) and all this cuts through margins and a median of bright green grass. There's fencing on either side - barbed wire, wooden posts faded with years and weather. Mountains in the distance. The whole scene is somewhat Alpine.

Oh. My horse has disappeared. Quick, get it back. Okay, there it is. Now it's dragging a rusty wagon. Kind of a weird thing to make wagons out of, sheet metal, but there it is. So don't pity me. I'm good.

But still ...
















... horsey concepts.
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Offline JMack

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Re: Aphantasia & Writing
« Reply #5 on: April 03, 2020, 02:00:33 AM »
quote author=NedMarcus link=topic=12464.msg204011#msg204011 date=1585835255]
It's more a sort of knowing (when I'm writing) and a feeling of vibration or rhythm of the words and sentences. Hard to describe. I'm curious what experiences others have of this—not only people with degrees of aphantasia. Could you imagine writing without literal visual imagery?
[/quote]

This is me. It’s all about the words and their sound, their rhythm. I really should try to visualize while I write. I bet I’d enjoy it even more.
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Aphantasia & Writing
« Reply #6 on: April 03, 2020, 03:20:31 AM »
I'm... genuinely sort of confused on this topic. I don't visualise - not when writing, not when reading. Books that rely on being more about word-based cinematography usually don't work for me, because they're telling me a whole lot of stuff about how things look and I just don't care, that's not important for me. When I'm writing - which for me is also when I'm thinking about things I could write - then I'm all about the words, and how they fit together to feel pleasing together while also delivering the sense that I want to the reader. It's less about what they could see happening, and more about experiencing the story.

That said, you say "think of a red star" and I would have said I got number 6 up there. But mostly that's because I have seen red stars, so of course I know what one looks like. This whole discussion has me questioning what "see it in your mind's eye" actually means. You can't see it, surely, because your eyes are busy with the input that they are actually working with. So yes, I support, if I close my eyes and "picture" a red star... I get 1. Because I'm not seeing it. It's not there.

So... I guess I just went through the exact same voyage of discovery as Mr Lawrence.  ;D

Offline Yora

Re: Aphantasia & Writing
« Reply #7 on: April 03, 2020, 09:30:27 AM »
I think when it comes to providing readers with good visuals, the key is to give them just enougj information to construct an image that matches the tone and atmosphere of what you have in mind. Specific details are generally irrelevant.

Make an evocative sketch in 30 seconds instead of spending 5 minutes on each item on the dinner table or the motives stitched into into a characters sleeves.
It everyone is wearing fancy embroided jackets, that's as much information they need. If you have just one character, you can mention that his jacket has motifs of snakes winding down his sleeves, and that's good enough. No need to mention the number of snake heads and the color of their eyes, or the way their shapes curl on the cloth, or how the gold thread glitters in the light.

The reader doesn't have to be able to recreate your mental image. Just a mental image that evokes a similar feel.
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Offline NedMarcus

Re: Aphantasia & Writing
« Reply #8 on: April 03, 2020, 10:37:16 AM »
It's hard to talk about because I don't have all the words (or even concepts) to describe it. I just know what's right when I'm writing, but I'm not sure of the mechanism. I know the big picture, and can imagine the how the story unfolds, but in patterns of knowings.

I like using visual imagery in my writing, and a reader once told me she liked the use of colour in my stories. But I can't visualise any colours at all.

When I try to think of a colour, I feel is a sort of vibration, but I'm not even sure that's the right word. Each colour gives me a different feeling. Red's literally warm, and blue's cool. White feels like expansion. Yellow, purple, grey and other colours give me definite feelings, but I don't know how to put it into words. Colours feel powerful to me when I'm writing, so I'm feeling them in some way, but not visually.

I like visual description when I'm reading too, and even though I can't see images in my mind, they have meaning.

But do you alway always use visual imagery when you read and write? It seems too clumsy to me (I say that without having any so could be completely wrong).

On the test, I range between 1 and 2, but more often I'm a 1. Since reading this article, I've researched a little, and articles I've read say that aphants (that's our name apparently) usually dream the same as anyone else. I have imagery in dreams, and I also have hypnagogic imagery. But this depends on being in a state between sleep and waking. I'm sometimes able to manipulate it. So something's happening.

Offline isos81

Re: Aphantasia & Writing
« Reply #9 on: April 03, 2020, 11:19:37 AM »
I'm... genuinely sort of confused on this topic. I don't visualise - not when writing, not when reading. Books that rely on being more about word-based cinematography usually don't work for me, because they're telling me a whole lot of stuff about how things look and I just don't care, that's not important for me. When I'm writing - which for me is also when I'm thinking about things I could write - then I'm all about the words, and how they fit together to feel pleasing together while also delivering the sense that I want to the reader. It's less about what they could see happening, and more about experiencing the story.

That's me, too! If the details are irrelevant to the story, like the type of the stone of a castle, I just ignore them. Since I'm not really interested in details, I don't understand why writers keep telling those details :)
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'Yes' said Caladan Brood. 'You never learn'

Offline cupiscent

Re: Aphantasia & Writing
« Reply #10 on: April 03, 2020, 11:29:14 AM »
It's probably worth noting at this point that I am constantly getting feedback on my writing of "include more visual description". :D

@NedMarcus, that almost sounds like synaesthesia. Do other things have colours or textures or sounds associated with them? Like... days of the week?

Offline JMack

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Re: Aphantasia & Writing
« Reply #11 on: April 03, 2020, 11:44:16 AM »
My dum memory of reading Hemingway was that he is spare with the visuals.
Read this:
Spoiler for Hiden:
He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.

You see every thing, but there’s not a bit of “description.”
So I thought, yeah, that proves that at least one guy sold books without that stuff. Yay, me; there’s hope.

And then I read the next paragraph:

Spoiler for Hiden:
The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.

Lots of description. And pretty freaking brilliant.
But what makes it brilliant is how everything serves character, setting, and theme. It’s not description for its own sake; it’s part of a whole.

If all I did with this post was have a few of us read two paragraphs of Hemingway, I’ll take that.  ;D
« Last Edit: April 03, 2020, 11:46:21 AM by JMack »
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Offline NedMarcus

Re: Aphantasia & Writing
« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2020, 01:32:15 PM »
@NedMarcus, that almost sounds like synaesthesia. Do other things have colours or textures or sounds associated with them? Like... days of the week?

Just colours, and perhaps foods. I'll spend some time thinking about this to make sure. Other words have associations, but that's different. Perhaps I stressed this feeling too much, for the most part I just have a feeling of knowing how the story should be. Of course, like anyone (I think), I have to spend time working through problems etc. But assuming the scene is flowing, then I know where everything should go without the need for visual images.

On a different point. At certain times in my life, I've tried meditating, and I find the 'empty your mind' type much easier than the guided visualisations, which are impossible (for obvious reasons).

Offline Matthew

Re: Aphantasia & Writing
« Reply #13 on: April 04, 2020, 03:42:21 AM »
1... and an awareness of what shape the star would be allowing me to trace it out with eye movements (but doubting they'd join up at the end).

I too was shocked when I first learned that most people can see actual images in their minds, and suddenly understood why I can only draw from life where others can sketch out really cool stuff so easily.

I do sometimes dream though, and I have seen animations in a flickering screen when I've been heavily sleep deprived, but nothing more than outlines.

Offline NedMarcus

If you have good imagery
« Reply #14 on: April 04, 2020, 06:05:20 AM »
For people who do have good visual imagery, How does this help you write stories? Do you just play through lots of possible scenarios like different takes in a film?