I discovered several years ago now that many 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.
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 always bugged me a little. Like, what did that mean, bringing images to mind? Like people *did* that or something? *snort* (There is another, similar, scene in one of the Feynman books in which he and several other, y’know, like, nuclear scientists, are discussing how to best keep time in one’s head, and he said something about, after they’d all sat around seeing how *they* did it, that the most accurate time-keepers were the ones who saw a clock counting down in their minds. And I thought, buh? Like you could *see* a clock ticking the seconds off? It was only after this conversation came up with friends that I realized that in fact most people can.)
My husband 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.
Behind the cut is a scene from URBAN SHAMAN, my first published novel, and further commentary on this visualization thing.
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 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.
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 a con a few years ago I put this question (“Do you visualize?”) to the 40 people in the room with me and my panel partner. 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?