Do you ‘see’ your story as you write?

“Mikaella Clements interviews various authors about how their visual imagination (or lack thereof) informs their writing. The answers run the gamut: “I rarely visualize what I’m writing because visualization takes effort and can be distracting,” says Talia Hibbert. While Claire Messud says, “When I’m in a world it’s like a 3D five senses movie. I’m there.” (Washington Post)” – From Poets & Writers

On weekdays, I check Poets & Writers overview of literary headlines. When I read the blurb above, my first thought was that I wasn’t going to be able to see the entire story due to the Washington Post’s pay wall. That was frustrating because, after seeing the comment by Talia Hibbert, I wondered how anyone could possibly create a story without seeing it in their mind’s eye.

I guess we all assume that what we experience while writing is similar to what other authors experience. Since I “automatically ‘see'” the characters and locations I’m creating in my fiction, I wondered how visualization could be distracting, much less take an effort to accomplish.

As Messud says, “I’m there.”

In fact, I couldn’t avoid being there even if I wanted to because images appear (unbidden but welcome) while I write. True, they’re often somewhat determined by the research I do, especially when it comes to the look and feel of locations. 

“Seeing’ absolutely nothing would, for me, be a distraction. It would be like writing in a dark room with my eyes closed. Heck, I’d probably ‘see’ the story anyway.

If you write fiction, does your mind create pictures of your location and your characters while you’re writing? (Just wondering.) If you do see those pictures, are they helpful or distracting?

I’m always writing, so to speak, about a mental movie I’m watching. But maybe most writers don’t approach their work this way. When I hear that other writers don’t/won’t/can’t to this, I’m filled with wonder about how the process of creation works.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy, realism, magical realism, and paranormal stories and novels.



Journeying through fiction

Critics have said that the best fiction is that which is so well written, readers feel they are actually there in the scenes observing the action and hearing the dialogue. We read books, I believe, when we need to read them even though our choices may be subconscious. This need probably includes escapist fiction, though I see that more as an emergency pain killer or probiotic than a self-improvement journey.

A variety of book genres resonate with me. When there are lessons, large and small, and vicarious experiences, large and small, within them, then the process of reading becomes a positive journey. There may or may not be spiritual implications even though the story is providing something we need. We don’t always consciously know what we need; yet, the reading provides it. In fact, since I operate out of intuition and chaos, I tend to think that books meet our needs when we simply read them to enjoy them rather than when we read them thinking they’ll meet specific needs in our lives.

Apparently, those needs are best met when we allow ourselves to be swept away by the story, to read it without distractions and to visualize the scenes as they happen rather than intellectually reading the words the way we might if we were studying a book for a college course. When I read, I pretend that I am right there in the middle of the action. After reading a few pages, it’s no longer pretence because the action really seems to be wherever I am.

In spite of several cataract surgeries, my eyes tire more quickly these days than they did years ago. So, I’m likely to shut them for a few minutes to give them a rest. When I do this, I continue to see an unfolding scene. This is somewhat disconcerting because it’s not the scene the author wrote. It’s as though the characters continue doing their own thing while my eyes are closed with dialogue and action seem just as real as that in the book. When I open my eyes, I find that I’ve somehow wandered into an alternate future for the characters that began the minute I closed my eyes. This forces me to backtrack several pages to get back into the story the author intended.

I have no idea whether or not this happens to other readers. Perhaps it’s an anomaly. Perhaps it’s my level of concentration and/or my writer’s intuition about routes the story could take next at any given moment.  In general, I function better when I’m reading my favorite kinds of stories. They’re like powerful energy drinks. Reading helps my writing, too even though I never read anything similar to what I’m writing at the moment because I don’t want to be influenced by it, worse yet, borrow it without knowing I’m borrowing it.

I don’t think it helps to pick up a novel and think, “Okay, I’m about to go on a journey.” That would be like taking a placebo, knowing that it’s a placebo. The journeys we take by reading books seem more effective when we don’t concern ourselves with the journeys and just let whatever’s going to happen to happen. After we finish a book, we might feel empowered or inspired or more confident in ourselves or ready to tackle difficult tasks. Personally, I prefer not to analyze this: I’d rather just allow it without trying to pin science and technology logic to the process.

How about you? When you read the kinds of novels you like best, do you feel better off while reading them? Do you feel a lack in your life when you don’t have anything new to read? When you finish a book, does it feel like you’ve just returned home from a vacation trip?

I can easily answer “yes” to all those questions, but I wonder where other people experience books in similar ways.


Favorite Place of Relaxation

Some guided meditation techniques begin with the leader/facilitator saying, “Close your eyes, take deep breaths, and as you slowly exhale, visualize your favorite place of relaxation.”

In most groups, a fair number of people will choose real or imagined sunny meadows, mountain valleys, quiet ocean beaches, and silent lakes. These are soothing places.

I tend to pick actual locations for my favorite places of relaxation because they are so easy to visualize. And then, if the meditation–or shaman’s style journey–calls for me to move around, I can quickly see myself walking along an actual trail I know well.

Whenever I return to that place “in real life,” I find that a psychic bond has been created via my frequent visualizations of it. In ways difficult to describe, I am closer and more attuned to the land, the animals, the trees and the flowers in that location than I would be if I had never visualized the spot in meditations and dreams. The favorite place of relaxation has now become a place of power.

The land “gives back” in response to our appreciation of it. As we honor it, it honors us in return and in greater measure.

Copyright (c) 2005 by Malcolm R. Campbell