Sorry to disappoint, but this post is not as deep as some of you might be thinking from that title. See, (was that a pun?) I’m not talking about understanding another person’s perspective, I’m talking about literally the visual image that’s in your head while you’re reading.
If the writing is in 3rd person, do you see it like a movie? If it’s in 1st person, do you see through the eyes of the character? Does it depend? Do you see it as both? As neither? Let’s discuss!
Just for some clarification, let’s talk about the different points-of-view that exist.
There’s 3rd person omniscient, in which the story is being told by a narrator who knows everything about everyone.
There’s 3rd person limited, in which the story is still being told using he/she/they pronouns, but it generally follows one character (at a time) closely.
There’s 1st person, in which the story is being told entirely from inside the mind of a character, using I/we pronouns.
There’s also 2nd person, in which the story is told using the you pronoun, but I’ve never read a 2nd person book, so I won’t really be talking about that.
How I “See” Stories
This is actually difficult to answer because have you ever actually paid attention to this while reading? Yeah, me neither. But I’m fairly certain that it just kind of constantly changes throughout the book, regardless of POV.
In my head, it’s kind of like there’s a camera recording things, but sometimes the camera zooms out a bit so that I see all the character and the whole room, other times it zooms way in super close so that I’m right in the characters’ faces, etc. So I think sometimes I do end up seeing things kind of through a character’s eyes if my mental camera decides that’s the best vantage point from which to view the scene.
But I really don’t think it depends on the POV. I’ve seen things through the character’s eyes in 3rd person stories. I’ve seen things from a zoomed out position in 1st person books. I’ve even seen things through the eyes of a character who wasn’t the POV character. (Well, I think. This is all kind of speculation and memory since we’ve already established this isn’t the kind of thing you notice while reading.)
For example, let’s say Bob is the 1st person POV character, and he’s smooshed into a tiny closet with Mary because they’re hiding from something, and so their faces are just a few inches apart. I might very well see Bob’s face in my mental camera (which would be kind of like seeing him from Mary’s POV), even though the story is being told from inside his head. Or I might see Mary’s face. Or the camera might be kind of next to/in between them and showing me a profile view of both the faces. Or the view I’m seeing might change from paragraph to paragraph.
I will say, however, that I think I view things from an outside 3rd person type of perspective most of the time. To be honest, I’m not sure I ever see things from a 1st person perspective? And I do prefer 3rd person POV in books. I feel like the closest I get is that sometimes that mental camera of mine is on their shoulder or something, if that makes any sense. But again, this is just speculation and me trying to think back on books I read. But that does make sense since I prefer 3rd person.
Anyway, reading is just such a weird thing in that it takes place entirely in our heads. In movies, every scene and camera position and angle planned out, but in books, all of that just happens on a subconscious level. And while writers do their best to guide our attention, what we see, how we see it, etc., sometimes the mind is gonna do what the mind wants to do ;-) and now I’m curious to know what YOUR mind does!