Blurry vision

Describing characters and locations is key to writing a story. But what happens when you can't visualise?

Read a book, and at some point you're going to come across a description of a character, a location, or an object. Authors vary with how much description they give; maybe it's a rough outline, intending the reader to do the heavy lifting and fill in the gaps. Maybe it's a complete picture, from the delicate hairs on her chin to the raised lump on her left index knuckle.

Now, at this point, I have a slight confession to make. You see, as an author, I'd love to make more solid descriptions, but the simple truth is, I can't see them in my mind.

My visual acuity (where you imagine in your head what something looks like) is absolute garbage.

Perhaps you've seen a visualisation test like this.

The idea is simple. Imagine an apple in your mind. Now, compare it to the chart.

Did you...

See nothing? (5)

See a rough outline of an apple? (4)

See a rough 2D shape of an apple, with no colour? (3)

See a coloured 2D shape of an apple? (2)

See a fuly fledged, 3D shape, texture, the full shebang? (1)

Now, my problem already is that I don't fit into these boxes. If I imagine an apple, i can feel its coarse texture; smell the sharp tang of it; see, in quite good detail, an impression of an apple. But only in minute detail for one small area of it.

As soon as I try to move the image in my mind (say, to look at the bottom of it) I can't. Or, if I can, I completely lose the first image.

I'm even worse with faces. Ask me to visualise someone, even my wife or kids, and I'll be able to imagine their hair, but not their face; their eyes, or their nose, but not their hair. I feel like my mind turns images into a picasso painting.

The thing is, all of this has meant that I can be more descriptive in my writing, something I'm simply not used to doing. I still don't want to be prescriptive, as I believe the world exists in the reader's imagination, so you have artistic right to alter things to suit your taste.

But, at least now, I can meet you half way.

Completely made up areas had to rely on my very poor artistic skills. For instance, the completely fictional Notre Dam hospital in Paris (no, that isn't a typo, Dam is spelled that way on purpose as an easter egg) was drawn with the artistic skill of a chimpanzee on acid (which, for me, was quite good).