A couple of years ago I found out that my mind works differently when it comes to recalling or conjuring visuals. I read this BBC article and suddenly realised my inability to conjure images in my mind’s eye is not the norm and has a name: Aphantasia
After I read the article I waited until my partner came home. I didn’t even let her change out of her work clothes and instead asked her to sit down on the stairs: “Can you picture a green elephant wearing pink pants and a hat?” And she said, yes.
I was stunned.
Some people report seeing nothing whatsoever. Their minds display only black. I don’t see nothing. I see short flashes of almost images.
If you ask me to think of a sunrise I will quickly see a flash of orange and maybe the sun before my mind goes dark again. If you ask me to picture a green elephant wearing pink pants and a hat, I will see flashes of a normal grey elephant, the colour green, some pants I own and wear frequently, a hat I own and the colour pink. It’s a weird mix. The flashes blend into each other and the whole thing does not form a proper image and then disappears again.
I don’t like to read overly descriptive books, because the words remain just words in my mind. My memory is excellent, I will recall most things I’ve read and am able to tell you in words what the author described but there’s no mental image to go with it.
Take Severus Snape for example: I knew he had dark eyes, a hooked nose and greasy, black hair, but that didn’t result in an image in my mind. When I saw Alan Rickman in the first Harry Potter film, I thought: YES! That’s exactly what he’s supposed to look like. I finally had an image.
I do sometimes miss details in books and, especially in fantasy, have found out at the end that a race has blue skin when looking at illustrations online.
This is probably one of the reasons why books rarely manage to scare me or make me cry. I’m missing the visuals and words alone do not have the same impact.
Aphantasia also poses a problem for me as a writer.
If I don’t jot down the hair colour of my main character, I will definitely give them brown hair in chapter one and red hair in chapter seven and possibly not even notice until a beta reader points it out.
I also struggle with adding description to my work. Since I can’t picture things I don’t know how to describe them. That fantasy city my main character just entered? Or the wedding dress another character has in her wardrobe? Or the flowers someone picked? I don’t see them and I have no idea what they look like and I often focus on sound and smell instead.
To help get around this problem I usually browse through Pinterest boards and find pictures to help me be consistent and find more details to add to my work.
Do any of you struggle with descriptions? Or perhaps a few of you are aphantasiac, too. How do you get around it? Let me know in the comments.
See you next week,