What Do You See?

see.jpgThe last time John and I were on Topsail Island, we were having dinner in a restaurant when John suddenly said, “Do you see that waitress over there? That’s Dawn.”

I figured he must mean the character Dawn in my latest book, Before the Storm. I turned to look at the waitress. She was a little chubby, about five-four, with chin-length medium brown hair and a no-nonsense demeanor.

“Dawn who?” I was perplexed.  

“In Before the Storm.”

“You’re kidding! Is that the way you picture her?”

Indeed, that was John’s image of Dawn. In my own mind, Dawn is tall and lithe, with long auburn hair and, yes, a no-nonsense demeanor that only barely masks her vulnerability.

Our conversation started me thinking about what I see as I write a book versus what my reader sees. I have such a clear image of not only each character, but each setting–every house, every room, every sand dune, every night sky. Without going overboard on detail (yawn), I try to give my reader the same vision I have. Apparently, I sometimes fail! Remember our earlier blog conversation in which some of you told me you didn’t realize The Sea Tender, the house my characters lived in, was round? You came up with your own images, and they worked for you. That’s the important thing. I think as readers, we get very attached to the images we form in our minds. That’s one reason why, when a book is made into a movie, we can have trouble making that leap from the page to film. The people and the setting may not look at all like the pictures we’ve affectionately created in our own minds.

I have a confession to make, though. In Before the Storm, there are two kitchens in The Sea Tender.  It nearly drove me crazy as I wrote the story. For example, in the scenes where Laurel tends to little Maggie’s cut hand and where the teenaged Maggie meets her illicit lover, the kitchen is in the rear of the house and overlooks the ocean. In the scenes where Laurel has post-partum depression and Sara brings over groceries for her, and the scene in which Marcus asks Laurel if she’s comfortable with him moving back to the island, the kitchen is in the front of the house. And they are completely different kitchens. This is very rare for me. Usually I get one image in my mind and it becomes so real that I can’t budge it if I try. The Sea Tender kitchen moved back and forth over time and nothing I did (including keeping a diagram of the house next to my computer) could keep it in place. I only hope my readers were able to get it to hold still.

So, are you visual readers? Do you picture each setting and each character in detail? Or do some of you see only words without images attached to them? I’m curious if different people experience books in different ways. 

Soundtrack of the day: I’m listening to the soundtrack of Blood Diamond on my iPod as I work today. Beautiful, stirring music (and an excellent movie, too).  


  1. Nan Gee on August 20, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    The closer I am to a story the more I can see the places and characters. For me, books would all be dictionaries and telephone directories if I couldn’t visual where I am and with whom. The visual is part of the journey for me.

  2. Denise on August 20, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    I definitely visualize characters and locations, although I primarily focus on the characters. Sometimes I get a little bored if a writer goes into too much detail about locations, although I know they are important.
    I sometimes find myself subconsciously and stubbornly ignoring the writer’s description of a character if it doesn’t fit my personal vision of them.
    I pictured Dawn as being fairly tall and slim with blondish hair…but kind of ‘frowsy’ (is that a word?!). I did not visualize her as being chubby!

  3. Margo on August 21, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Diane, this is a conversation Laura and I had just a few weeks ago. I never realized that she did NOT visualize colors, shapes and details of place…I was SHOCKED because I just assumed everyone pictured everything in their mind as they read a book…I have always created colors and images in my mind as I read and picture the images so vividly I could probably sit down and draw them out! After my talk with Laura I realized that we probably don’t see things alike at all. When I read, I can picture the color of the sand, the sea and the sky…the waves in a girls hair, where the sign of a cafe would hang over a door and if it is crooked or straight…and I certainly remember the SEA TENDER as round and pictured in my head where the steps were that led up to the door…to me, half the excitement of reading a novel is using my imagination to create the authors words into images. Diane, I kept your kitchen in perspective and wasn’t confused at all…I was so engrossed with all the other details anyway. (-:

  4. Gina on August 21, 2008 at 11:21 am

    I definitely visualize! A good writer (like you Diane) makes it easy for me to see the characters, and places, very clearly. What would we do without those wonderful descriptions.

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