Get the Picture?

Whitney (my sister, who has been mentioned in several previous posts) pointed out to me relatively recently that, except for Stefan’s “deep blue” eyes, she has no idea what anyone in Burden looks like.

This is not because she has no imagination (far from it!) but because I did not describe any of the characters in the story.  Don’t believe me?  You can read it again for yourself, if you like. 

The truth is this: I am primarily an auditory learner.  If I hear something several times over, I will probably have at least a good chunk of it memorized.  When I read a book, I hear it out loud in my head, and when I type something on the computer, I am actually taking dictation from my own thoughts.  (Yes, everything I think is basically spoken inside my head.  And yes, I often talk to myself.)

When I create a scene from a story, it often starts with the dialogue.  Conversations between characters replay in my head until I get them on paper.  I can imagine the physical actions that accompany the words, feel the emotional responses to conversations and events, but I do not usually picture what is going on.

In Butterflies, I created physical descriptions for every one of my main characters.  I wrote them down and had to refer to the document frequently because I couldn’t remember what anybody looked like.  Some physical characteristics, like build or a hereditary hair color, were pertinent to the story.  Those stuck with me.  Otherwise, did it really matter what color someone’s eyes were?  I know for many readers it does – this is how they build the characters in their minds.  My sister is one of these people.  She wants to know what the entire room looks like, not just the little corner where the action is taking place. 

I am trying to improve my skill for description, as I know it is important for some readers, and have done several writing practices to that end.  No matter how much I practice, though, imagining what someone looks like or how a room is arranged will always be something I have to think of consciously.  I need to hear and feel; it doesn’t matter so much what I see.