Do you read in pictures?

When I read, I sort of ‘see’ the story in my head, like a movie but with a lot less of the action. Sometimes it’s a scene only, other times, its characters that I see very clearly. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a running movie in my head, but more or less a picture slide show that accompanies the book.

This is really handy, until a movie comes out and every character and every scene looks different than the images I created in my head. This is the reason why I like to read a book before I see a movie but it doesn’t always work to my advantage for the movie viewing. An example would be The Lord of the Rings. I adore the movies but the characters, and especially the pronunciation of names, were far outside of what I had pictured, although some things came very close. It seriously made me wonder if Peter Jackson can read minds… Another example is historical fiction. The settings are extravagant and so are the costumes which make it another good genre for picturing a book. Contemporary fiction, which I don’t read much of, doesn’t work as well as say fantasy or historical fiction which might be one of the reasons I’m not drawn to it as often. It’s also one of the reasons I tend to skip battle scenes in books. I have an amazing ability to picture copious amounts of blood and gore. I have no idea why this is.

I do find this function of my brain helpful, to a certain extent. Over time, these mental images I create while reading tend to fade which is one of the reasons I re-read so much. I guess I like replaying the story and I do like to revisit a story to see if I have the same reaction to the scenes and characters years later. It also helps when I write reviews but sometimes the scenes accumulated in my head have nothing to do with the plot. Bad function of my brain or bad story, take your pick; we all process things differently.

You see, reading is so much more than words for me and I suspect the same is true for many of you out there as well. I connect with the words in ways that make a story more than ink on paper. When I return to a story I know, part of it is to relive the story, visit known characters, and to see those images again and see if life has changed how I view the story.

When you read a story, what do you see? Or maybe a better question — what does the story do for you?

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6 thoughts on “Do you read in pictures?

  1. I think it depends on the book. Some books I read and I no longer really see the words, but just enter this world that exists within my head but feels as real to me as the one I live in. Books like Harry Potter are a good example mainly cos I’ve read it so often.

    The books I love seem to exist in that little world – almost like a movie in my mind. It’s as if the more I love it the more rich in detail my imagination is able to become.

    Other times… I try to imagine it just as I read it but often it is lacking in detail. I can’t always picture faces unless I use an actor or someone I know who I think would fit. Maybe the background will be blurry.

    I wish we could photograph or paint or somehow get how we imagine stories onto paper and compare it with other people. It’s so interesting to me how differently we all read a book. Why do some people enjoy a book and others hate it with a passion? What do they see differently, how does their perception differ and what causes this?

    I think you’re right in that fantasy and historical fiction are easier to ‘imagine’ somehow maybe because your imagination has to work harder. Books set in the contemporary world (I do not seem to read much of this either I think…) it is familiar so you can be lazy. Ironic. I guess that is why I do not like reading books set where it is ‘familiar’ I do not want to relate too much to a story or character because I want to see another world, another place, another perception. I find it hard when people say they cannot relate to characters or the story – so what? Isn’t that the whole point of reading, to get away from yourself?

    • I agree. When a book is set in a world that’s different from mine I think my brain sets to work on making it real. When it’s a place I know, my imagination doesn’t work so much. I can still enjoy a story but it’s not the same. I enjoy a book more when I see it. That sounds really strange but true in my case. And you’re right, reading is a way to get away from myself and I think that’s also the reason I gravitate towards fantasy and historical fiction. They offer my brain an escape.

  2. I’m not the most visual person ever, and I don’t have terribly clear pictures in my head when I’m reading. I can hear dialogue really clearly, and I have a sense of the, I guess, flavor of a book? So if I see an illustration it can feel very right or very wrong, but more because of the feeling the illustration gives me vs the feeling the book gives me. Oh dear that was very muddled.

  3. This is such an interesting topic. I try to see everything in my mind and if I seem to have read a page or two and don’t have a scene in my head I know that I’m not really engaged with the book.

    Sometimes when I’m commuting on the bus and lots of others are reading too, I wonder what mental images they are having as they read. I wonder what world they are in.

    I adore the movies but the characters, and especially the pronunciation of names, were far outside of what I had pictured…
    Isn’t it funny how pronunciations differ in movies from what you thought it was? I never knew the dragon in The Hobbit was pronounced “sm-ow-g”, I had always heard it in my head as “smog”!

    • It’s interesting how we engage differently with books. I understand the not seeing scenes means I’m not enjoying a book too. That happens to me and I think it frustrates me and makes me quit reading.

      Pronunciations confound me when movies come out. Why can’t the names be said the same way as the ones in my head? 🙂

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