If you’ve been on Twitter lately, you’ve probably seen some tweets going around about the different ways different people’s brains work. Some people have a constant inner monologue, while others don’t hear any words in their mind. Some people can visualize images vividly, some see nothing in their minds, and some see things in varying ways in-between the two extremes.
As a reader, I can’t help but wonder if these differences among people might explain some of the differences we have in reading habits, preferences, and experiences. And what better way to find out than a discussion post? I can only talk about my own experiences, but I hope everyone will chime in with your experiences in the comments!
How My Mind Works
I’m someone who sees things pretty vividly in my head. Everything might not be perfectly realistic (something like an apple is easier to make realistic than a person, for example), my brain might keep the unimportant things a bit vague, sometimes things might look more like a painting or animation than real life, sometimes the details might shift, but I do see things in my mind. If you tell me to imagine an apple, I can see, inside my mind, a shiny red apple sitting on a counter top. Or I can have it sitting on my family’s dining table. Or I can picture it on the tile floor. I can make it a green apple. I can imagine someone picking it up and taking a bite. I probably won’t worry too much about the details of the person—unless you tell me it’s a woman with dirty blonde hair in a ponytail, wearing a yellow halter dress, and then I’ll envision that.
This wasn’t really discussed in the Twitter hubbub, but I can also imagine sounds in my brain. I can hear the crunch when that woman bites the apple, I can hear the thunk when she sets it down, etc.
My brain will also generally fill in the blanks when it’s not given specifics. If you told me she was eating the apple in a coffee shop, I wouldn’t need details about the coffee shop. I just picture what I think of as a coffee shop, complete with tables and chairs and other people and the sounds of talking all that jazz. I couldn’t tell you what each person is wearing, or maybe even what colors the chairs are, because those aren’t super important details, but they’re there (kind of like how I don’t notice every detail in real life, but they’re still there), and I could create and see those details if I were asked to. Kind of like how I couldn’t necessarily tell you what a character is wearing in every scene I imagine them in, but they’re definitely not wandering around naked. My brain just puts some clothes on them but doesn’t focus too hard on it unless I’m given a description for the clothes.
Another thing not mentioned but that could be interesting to discuss here, I don’t really control where the “camera” is positioned. My mind just automatically makes those decisions when I’m reading, writing, daydreaming, etc. Sometimes it’s up close and personal, sometimes far off, sometimes 1st person POV, sometimes 3rd person POV. And the POV a book is written in doesn’t affect that.
So how does this apply to my reading habits?
I love character description. The more detail, the better. Because I am going to visualize every character. And if I don’t get enough description, they come out looking kinda vague and generic in my head. Or they’re just constantly shifting because I don’t know how they’re supposed to look, and my brain doesn’t want to lock into anything. And that frustrates me. It’s interesting though because there are some characters my brain can see so vividly, and others that I struggle with.
I don’t always love setting description though. So either that’s because I’m not as good at visualizing that (sometimes I don’t know what authors are talking about when they describe architecture and designs from certain time periods), or it could mean we still have preferences that don’t necessarily relate to how our brains work.
I read slowly and almost always listen to audiobooks on 1x or 1.10x speed. I want to envision all the scenes in real-time in my head, like a movie, and I can’t do that if the narration is too fast.
I’m super picky about audiobook narrators. When I read, every character has a different voice (to an extent, I kinda have a few go-to voices) that I feel suits them, and I hear them talking. I hear the way they talk, their accent (if it’s one I’m able to do), their emotion, etc. So when I listen to a narrator and think, “This would be so much better in my head,” it’s just frustrating. Or when I hear a narrator and think, “That is so not how I imagined that character sounding.” This is why I will sometimes choose to listen to books with TTS (text-to-speech) instead, because that way I can kind of let the robot voice fade out and overlay it with my own imagination.
I don’t like watching movie adaptations after reading a book. I hate having the images in my head ruined.
How Might This Affect Other People’s Reading Habits?
I don’t know, that’s what I’m hoping to learn from you all!
How do you experience stories in your head?
Does it affect what genres or types of books you like?
Do you like character and setting description?
Are you a slow or speedy reader/listener?
Are there any other ways that the way your brain works affects your reading?
This is interesting to me, and I would love to know more, so let me know your thoughts! (Is that a pun in this instance? Lol.) Maybe better understanding the differences in how our brains work could help us all communicate better and understand each other more in general. And if you write (or have already written) your own post about this, leave a link in the comments :-)