Lola’s Ramblings: Do you Visualize while Reading?

Posted January 14, 2016 by Lola in Lola's Ramblings / 48 Comments


Lola’s Ramblings is a feature on my blog Lola’s Reviews where I ramble on about a book related or a non-book related topic. These are discussion type of posts where I talk about a topic and readers can weigh in on the topic in the comments. Usually these posts are everything that doesn’t fall under any standard header, like tours, cover reveals, memes, challenges, recaps or reviews. Lola’s Ramblings posts are discussions of a certain topic and my point of view on them. The banner for this feature is designed by Michelle from Limabean Designs.

Today I want to talk about how I visualize things when reading. This topic is partly inspired by a post I read about how some people aren’t able to visualize and a comment on a post about covers and visualizing characters. This made me think it would be an interetsing topic to talk about.

How I visuzalize

When I am reading a book I have very strong images in my head, it’s almost like watching a movie in your head and I see things play out before me. So yes I do visualize while reading. I think this is part of why I prefer settings I like to those I don’t as in my head I see that setting and I rather see something that’s appealing than something that isn’t. It’s also part of the reason why I like readings book with settings I haven’t read about as it gives me something new to visualize.

How I visualize settings, places and the world

Burying WaterSettings or worlds are the things I visualize best. I could probably draw or describe exactly how the house and small town in Burying Water looks like or how the house in Dream On Amber looks a bit like the house were I grew up in, the rooms are all on the same place, but the inside of the rooms does look different.
Sometimes these images stay close to what is being described in the book, the less descriptions there are the more freedom for my mind to come up with my own idea. Sometimes this is a good thing to have the freedom to imagine things however I want to. Although in general I prefer it when an author describes enough of the setting, house etc so I can form an image based on the descriptions. Sometimes it’s more of a feeling than an exact immage, especially for larger things like town, like small cozy, with lots of trees and small buildings than an exact image.
With houses or settings where many scenes take place I form a stronger image in my head. After the first scene in a certain location or world I often have a bit of a vague image with a few clearer details and the feel of the place. After the first few scenes the image in my head is pretty much set in stone, although with addition details or descriptions I can add some details or change things a bit. I think that what is described in the first scenes we hear about a building or locataion has the most impact. Like in Dream on Amber it was said they each had their own room, but that it was an appartment building was only mentioned later, so then they already had their own front door and garden in my visualized image of their house. It reminded me a bit of my youth so I drew on the image of the house I grew up in, but changed how the room themselves looked.

How I visualize characters

Daemons in the MistI find characters harder to visualize than settings and places. Often I have a vague image for a character. Sometimes the clothing or expressions are very clear, sometimes I feel how someone looks like, but if I had to explain or draw it, I get nothing. Sometimes having a cover model helps, but usually I prefer to not have a model on the cover so I can come up with my own image based on the descriptions in the book. Especially in case where the cover model doens’t fit the descriptions.
Another weird things is that once I have a certain image it doesn’t matter how mnay times it’s mentioned things look different I stay with my initial image. For an example of how cover images sometimes influence my image of a character, the cover for Daemons in the Mist pretty much gave me my image for Nualla, but Travis and Patrick look different in my head than on the cover. I hate Travis his expression and face on the cover as in my head his face looks very different. I can’t explain how exactly, but it’s just not right how he looks on the cover, even though both the cover and my image fit the description in the book. Often it’s more a feel than an exact image and I know the cover doesn’t look like him, but I can’t explain what is wrong. Then there was Patrick his best friend, Connor, who apparantly was darked skinned. I read over that the first few times so he was white in my head and then in a later book I suddenly read his skin was dark and I was all huh how did that happen. So yeah sometimes I just read over character descriptions and make up my own image regardless of the image.
If I see the movie based on a book the model who plays a certain character ofter overrides my initial image of the characetr, which is why I don’t like watching movies. I know my image of Harry Potter didn’t completely fit how he looked in the movie, but after seeing the movie I lost my own image. On the other hand watching the movie first can help a lot when visualizing characetrs and settings. I read the first star wars book and knowing how everyone looked in the movies meant I immediately already had a good image of everything and the descriptions weren’t even necessary. I could perfectly visualize how they looked and how their expressions were.

Do you Visualize while Reading? And how to do visualize settings, worlds and characters? What do you visualize the strongest?


48 responses to “Lola’s Ramblings: Do you Visualize while Reading?

  1. I was thinking of doing a post about the different ways I visualize characters too, haha, but I’ll answer here anyway.

    For me it all depends. Some characters I’m able to picture so clearly it’s like they’re standing in front of me. Other times they end up as vague blobs. Often if there’s a person on the cover, I’ll use that image. Sometimes I’ll go to Pinterest and find a person who fits how I feel the character should look. If I’ve seen the movie before reading the book, I definitely use the actor, can’t help it.

    It was weird though, when I started reading Divergent, I decided, as I came across characters in the book, to just look up the actors, might as well get it out of the way rather than have my own images ruined later. When I got to Tobias though, I pictured him in my head, then I looked up the actor, and it was SO NOT EVEN REMOTELY CLOSE, so I stuck with my own image without any problem. I’ve also, regretfully, seen images of Lupin from HP, and he’s not at all how I pictured, and he’s my favorite, so I’m trying real hard to stick to my image.

    Wait a minute, wait a minute—I just went back to your post and realized—you don’t like watching movie adaptations because you don’t like how they ruin the image in your head? Did I read that right, or did I misunderstand something? Because that is exactly the reason I don’t watch movie adaptations, and everyone thinks I’m crazy lol.

    As for settings, I don’t think too much about it. They just kinda happen. I Definitely helps if it’s a type of setting I’ve been to. Actually, a book I read recently, the only reason I was able to picture the house they were staying in was because my Sims once lived in a house just like it, hahaha. I never thought about pretty settings being more fun to “look at” in my mind, but I’ve definitely described things like, “It was so beautiful!” which probably makes non-readers wonder how can something look beautiful when we’re just reading words?

    It really is incredible how our minds can make these things up! (Also, sorry that I wrote, like, an entire essay lol.)
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    • I hope you’ll do your own post on this topic as well, it’s so interesting to hear about how people visualize things when reading. And no worries about the long comment. I see it as a good sign that you have so much to say about the topic you write such a long comment and I love discussing things like this :).

      I am the same, some people are vague blobs with maybe a few charactertistics, but others are ore clearly. I read one of the star wars books after seeinh the movie and the characters where all so vividly in my mind, that’s usually not the case. It was a fun experience. If there is a cover model I often do use that to create my image for that character with in my head.

      It can be quite hard to stick to your own image after seeing the movie or the actors for it, but sometimes I manage. I am pretty sure some Harry Potter characters looked different in my hea,d but I’ve read the books a long time ago and I’ve seen the movies multiple times, so the image of the movies now sticks with me.

      And yes I hate seeing movie adaptions as they ruin my own image in my head. I am tryign to avoid al pictures of movies if possible. I usually prefer to keep my own image and once I see movie pictures it feels like my own image get’s erased and I hate that. I always thought I was the only weird person who didn’t watch movies for that reason πŸ˜‰

      Oh that’s priceles you were able to picture the house because your sims lived in a house just like that. Settings are often pretty vivid in my mind, so if it’s a settign I like it can make the read more pleasant. I much rather imagine a forest or country side than a cave or underground setting. It’s fascinating how we can make this all up in our minds!

      • THIS MAKES ME SO HAPPY. Seriously since I was like ten everyone has looked at me like I have three heads when I’ve tried to explain why I don’t watch movie adaptations! I have never met a single person who feels the same way about it!

        See, I don’t mind reading a book after seeing a movie, but yeah, if I like a book, I will not see the movie, and I will even avoid pictures of the actors as much as possible (hence why I didn’t even know what Lupin looked like in HP until I accidentally saw a photo and immediately covered it up lol). If I didn’t like the book though… then I might not care if I see the movie after because the picture in my head might not be all that important to me. But it might. It all just depends.
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        • I sometimes make an exception and watch the movie adaption, but usually I just won’t as I just want to keep my own image of how everything looks. It’s awesome to finally have found someone who feels the same πŸ™‚

          I saw star wars before I read the book (I only read one of the books so far) and I didn’t mind that. It was pretty interesting to read a book after having seen the movies. I did enjoy the Harry Potter movies, but I am sad that I now lost my original image of how everything looked and I can never get it back. Indeed if I didn’t enjoy the book as much it feels less bad to watch the movie, then again I am probably not invested in enough in the story to watch the movie in that case.
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      • I’m wondering why descriptions wouldn’t match the cover model. Actually I’m not. Publishers make marketing decisions and writers write. But I am my own publisher, and when I work on a cover with Anna, I sometimes end up changing the text because of what she draws (and I approve). I love working this way. She makes me see things I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I tell her about parts of the story she doesn’t know about.

        • I am thinking that if possible they try and make cover models match the cover, but often with the small publishers or authors who use stock images, it seems like they just use a stock image that sort of fits. I’ve seen covers that really didn’t match the descriptions and it just feels off.

          That’s awesome you sometimes change the text because of what Anna draws. It sounds like you two work well together πŸ™‚
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  2. When I read the title of your post, my first thought was “if it’s a good book, I do.” I think some authors are better than others at ‘drawing pictures’ with their words and so it’s easier to visualize the setting and characters. I like that a lot – I like being able to see everything in my head as I’m reading, as though I’m watching a movie in my head (like you said). There are some authors, like Colleen Hoover, who don’t explicitly describe their characters because, she says, she wants the reader to form their own image of the characters. I like this as well because I can use the characters personality to create an image in my head. With settings, it’s the same way – unless I’ve been there. πŸ˜‰ When I traveled to Forks, after reading Twilight, I was impressed with how well SMeyer had done in describing the area. What I’d seen in my head because of her words was exactly like the real town and surrounding area.
    I find that I enjoy a book more when I can visualize the setting and characters. Do you, Lola?
    Oh, and movies (or book covers for that matter)…I really don’t like it when the characters don’t match how I’ve seen them in my head. πŸ™‚
    Great post, Lola!
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    • Good point Brandee! I definitely think it depends on the book. I am currently reading a book and there are so little descriptions that it all stays vague and I can’t form a good image.

      That’s interesting you read that Colleen Hooever didn’t describe characetrs explicetly so readers can form their own image. It would be interesting to hear how different readers visualize the characters. It can be nice to have that freedom to imagine the characters however you want without ay restrictions due to the descriptions given in the book.

      That’s great the actual town Forks looked alike to the image in your head, that’s awesome she described it so well!

      Yes I do think that I enjoy a book more when I visualize mroe, the more detailed my visualization the better I can get sucked into the book and I definitely like it when I am able to form a good image of the setting and characters. And I really dislike it when characters in movies don’t match the image in my heads. Although ofcourse the actors can’t fit everyone’s image, but I dislike it when that happens.
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  3. I can usually picture most things in my head while reading, as long as it’s a good book! If I can’t imagine what’s going on in the story, it usually means I’m bored and I need to move on.
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  4. I have exactly the same experience you do, Lola, but I don’t avoid movies based on books. With my own stories, after Anna did the covers I had a harder time keeping my original visions of the characters in my head. Now I have to struggle to see them my way, but I still can.

    • I am not really a movie person, so I rather not watch the movie and keep my own image, but I have watched some movies based on books. It’s really hard to keep my original image after watching a movie as I usually don’t visualize characters that clearly and the movie image is much clearer in my head and then replaces my own.

      I visualize most of the characters in your book as they look on the cover, although small things do differ, like their expressions or the lenght of their hair. Usually when a have such a clear picture of what the characters look like I base my own image on that, it goes automatically.
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  5. I visualize the same as you, Lola. And once I get an image of the characters in my head, it’s hard to get them out.

    I was reading a column from a publisher a few years ago and they said that people tend to visualize their own versions of the characters and that was why so many book covers had the heads missing.
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    • Those first images often stuck, even if they aren’t correct with the descriptions, it’s hard to change them later.

      Oh that makes sense that’s why they often don’t show the heads. While it looks a bit weird, I don’t mind that too much as then I can visualize the head myself. It is one of the most important parts and often visualizations of their face and expressions determines a lot of what they look like.

  6. I’d like to make another comment. I don’t like a lot of description. Like you, I like to fill in the details. I also feel that a lot of description slows the story down, and I like things to keep moving. The amount of description in The Goldfinch, for example, was excruciating. Of course that one is an extreme example, but I just don’t think a lot of description is necessary–just enough to give the reader the idea, like a few strokes of a pen to capture a person’s likeness. FWIW.

    • I do like descriptions, but not too much. I think there’s a fine line between being descriptive and describing so much it get’s boring and bogs down the pace. I am currently reading a book with almost no descriptions and that’s hard too as everything stays so vague.

  7. I never read any other way to be honest! As soon as I start reading my brain springs in to action and those characters and buildings spring to life!!

    I especially love to visualise when food is involve, I am reading The Cherry Blossom Murders just now which is set in Japan and the food is wonderfully described!

    The worst thing has to be when of course a book is turned in to a film or tv show and that visualisation just looks nothing like you imagined.
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  8. I visualize some things, but it’s a rough visualization. I have a friend that sees movies in her head while she reads, I don’t. The characters’ faces are usually fuzzy unless I have a definite person in mind, such as someone I know or a celebrity. I do visualize the action, but it’s rough again. I often focus on one part than the whole scene. And, I draw from images and movies I’ve seen to visualize the setting, but it’s not very fleshed out either.

    I wish I could see more distinct images, but I still enjoy what I do “see” in my mind while reading.
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  9. I usually don’t visualize too much about the setting. More often if I do it’s in a historical where the rooms and features are more detailed. Characters though I usually have no problem with. The heroines I usually have a generic visual but the heroes usually as I’m reading I immediately have a man candy photo in mind and can pull it up from my files. lol It’s interesting to see how and what people see or don’t as they read.
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    • I don’t really cast a character, it’s more that I get a feel for them/ create an image of what they look like in my head, not often based on actual actors. Places and action scenes are easier to visualize than characters for me.

      • Okay, why do we all have so much difficulty visualizing characters? Does a reader have to be an artist to see the characters in her head? I really want to know!

        • I do see characters, but they are usually less detailed than settings. It just seems easier to imagine settings than people. Not sure why. Maybe because people are more complex somehow because of their faces and different expressions. I am not sure if artists or photographers would be better at that.

    • I find this very interesting because the dominant way of writing now is through the eyes of a particular character rather than as a fly on the wall watching everyone and getting inside everyone’s heads. With this third-person-limited perspective, the story follows one character at a time and the reader can’t know what he or she doesn’t know or see. Some authors accidentally “head hop,” which means they switch points of view within a scenes. You’re not supposed to do that, and I always find it jarring. It’s perfectly okay to have multiple viewpoint characters, but not in the same scene. Usually you’d separate their narration into separate sections or chapters.

      Anyhoo, it sounds like the authors you’re reading are doing a really good job of this third-person-limited type of narration. What are some of your favorites?

      • I don’t think the perspective has anything to do with how I visualize, although indeed most books I’ve read are in either third or first person perspective. Even so I don’t visualize things as if I am the main character, but more as if I am following the main character. So maybe it’s more based on the person who’s reading the book than how it’s written?

          • That makes it sounds creepy, lol. I think it’s more like in a movie how you often follow the main character from a distance or how to best see the scene? It’s a bit hard to explain.

  10. My first thought was to laugh because even as a young child I would become so engrossed in a book that the outside world ceased to exist. I would be so into the setting and characters and feel of the story that an abrupt return to real life (someone getting my attention by prodding me, etc) was jarring. I would have a racing heart, get dizzy, or even have to blink like I’d come out of the dark into the light. And this is also why I don’t do well with cliffhangers, I’m so into the book that an abrupt ending is somewhat traumatic. So yes, I visualize my stories well. I’ve come to ignore covers and movies because of the disappointment that they don’t match up with the picture I got in my head.
    It doesn’t matter whether an author paints details or keeps it vague; my mind will fill it in as I go.
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    • While I visualize books pretty well I never get that engrossed, I still hear what’s going on around me. There are very few books that get me really emotionally involved or get my so absorbed in the story that I get a racing heart and such.
      I can see how getting that absorbed in a story makes cliffhangers even harder as the ending must feel even more abrupt then.
      It can be a good thing to ignore the cover, but it not always works out for me as I see the cover for a book so often and often strongly associate it with the book. Some covers actually match the descriptions pretty well, but it’s frustrating when they don’t.
      And yes my mind will fill it in even if there aren’t any details, but my visualization usually will be more vivid if the authors paints a bit of a feel for the place.

  11. I visualise too. Everything plays out perfectly like a movie in my head, I love it when an author sets the scene for us – and really fills in the details, colours, things like that. Otherwise my mind comes up with something on its own (which is fine too!)

    I also picture characters, though never as they look on the cover (it never occurred to me that they might look like cover models!) Sometimes, if I see a movie based on a book first (like the first Harry Potter) then the book folk look like actual people – I’m always a bit weirded out by this so I try to keep that to a minimum and read the book first, but sometimes it just happens. HP will forever have everyone in the fil, in my head lol but others like Lord of the Rings and Percy Jackson are very much my imagination. And all my characters are different, no one is ever the same (although if I’m reading a generic romance, without details they may be similar).

    Sometimes I have the problem where a character is in my head and suddenly there’s a mention that something about them isn’t as I’m seeing it – hair or skin colour. I usually cannot change my imagined person though, it’s so weird. So I just ignore it πŸ˜›

    I don’t understand how non-visual people can…enjoy reading as much? I mean…I’m sure they do! But I just cannot fathom not seeing something when you read about it. Even when I read non-fiction, I have pictures in my head (helps with memory too!)

    Great post Lola! πŸ˜€
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    • I don’t mind having to come up with my own image, but I prefer it if there are at least some descriptions to work with. Some authors really manage to do descriptions well so you can vividly imagine everything.

      I read the first prequel star wars book after seeing the movie and it was weird to be able to visualize the characters so well. It was quite interesting. Often covers can influence what the characetrs look like as the cover is something you always see about a book and I assume the cover should display the character(s) from the book. And indeed my characetrs do always look different from each other, although some might look similiar in some cases.

      It’s so weird when you have visualized an image and then suddenly read a detail that doesn’t fit your image. I always ignore it as well and even if I try to change my image, it doens’t really work well.

      I think not being able to visuzalize is pretty rare, but yeah I can imagine reading is a very different experience then, maybe even less enjoyable.

  12. I love being able to imagine the story and the various descriptions. I do have a harder time with characters than surroundings. It is also so fantastic when an author writes description with great detail so you can imagine it. If it is done right, its almost like being there for real and I love that.

  13. This is such an interesting post! I do visualise a bit when I read – but I find that it really varies. I’ll probably visualise the key parts of the setting, but then skim over the rest of the details. Plus with characters, they’re just generic people in my head, instead of following the desctriptions given. When movies come out, I tend to substitute these characters in my head with the actors! So…whilst I do visualise, I’m not great at it! xD
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    • Thanks! I agree that the amount of visualization often depends on the book. I do read the details of a setting, but not always incorporate them in my image.

  14. Very interesting Lola. I don’t think I visualise as such while I read but I do have a sense of how everything is in a book. More an atmosphere than an image though. Even in real life though I’m not very observant about how someone looks or what a room is like, instead I’ll soak up the emotions and how something feels. I never thought about how I do the same in books so thanks for making me spot that!
    One thing I dislike is when a model is on the cover of a book as I prefer not to have that visual in my head. But I’m ok with an actors face in my mind, maybe because I get familiar with them and associate them with the role. Harry Potter like you mentioned is a great example, I could never disassociate Daniel from him now.
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    • That’s interesting that the way you observe in real life is similiar to what you do in books. In real life I often pay attention to details in a room and what it looks like, so maybe that’s the reason I do the same in books.

      Cover models can be a bit hit or miss, sometimes it’s good when they fit the image, but other times it’s annoying when they don’t fit your image or you rather start out without visualizing the cover model as the main character. I guess that’s why I like those covers where you don’t see the atcual face, it makes it easier to fill ind details yourself.
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