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Reading With The Wrong Image In Mind

A photograph of a note pad with pens resting on it. The notepad is open and has a big question mark drawn on the page

Too often I’ve found I’m thinking of something visually different to what the author was intending me to think.

I wouldn’t call it a problem – except perhaps if you’re visualising a human when they are actually a dragon… which is unlikely to happen unless the character is called Eustace Scrubb. But it can be irritating and a minor issue. There have been occasions where I’ve had to actively rethink a person’s looks because they’re important to the plot and I haven’t added them into my picture.

This seems generally caused by a lack of description in the book; you only find out your picture is wrong when new information comes to light. The information tends to come at least half-way through the book when it really should have been in the first few pages. For all the bad aspects of Fifty Shades Of Grey, it can’t be said that E L James didn’t give the reader a good picture of Anna from the start, even if it was made easier by stereotyping and the prior existence of Bella Swan.

When new information comes to light I’m afraid I tend to acknowledge it and then default to the image I had created; I’ll rethink looks if needed but I often just set up a second version of the character so that the new one sort of tags along with the original. I also do it with locations, buildings, landscapes.

I don’t like to see the film before reading the book but if the book lacks description, visualising the choices made for the film helps a great deal.

There are times, I find, when I have a different picture regardless of how much description there – and while I’m hoping some of you will say you have had trouble with the lack of description aspect of this post, I’m absolutely counting on camaraderie for the following: where you have had a different experience of what the author is talking about or you just can’t get used to the idea of the author’s description of someone called Joe Bloggs when there is someone in your life called Joe Bloggs who looks completely different. (I remember Roald Dahl’s worship of aniseed in Boy and not at all understanding it. I remember reading a book about a girl called Elizabeth and finding it impossible not to see the girl who would spout untruths.)

The last point, there’s no getting away from; it will always happen. But the lack of description… it seems to be getting better on the whole in new books, but it’s still not quite there yet. I suppose it’s all too easy to have a visual in mind, get used to it, and forget that others would need more description for something they might think obvious. As I found earlier this week, it’s hard enough getting the spelling of a headline correct when it’s right in the middle of a poster.

When was the last time you had to correct the image in your head and were you able to correct it for the rest of the book?



March 29, 2018, 3:23 am

Forrest Gump is a film I’ve always loved, but when I read the book a few years ago, I realized that Tom Hanks was not at all the Forrest depicted in the book. The physical description is all wrong and, in the book, Forrest is more of a savant. Even so, I enjoyed the book as an alternative.


March 30, 2018, 2:31 pm

I find I tend not to visualise characters from books very much but still find it irritating when a film is cast with someone I believe is wrong for the part – maybe that’s more a question of their other roles seeping through though. I’ve definitely had problems when characters love food that I dislike – i can never quite decide if the author’s being ironic, or deliberately weird, or if in fact they love it too!



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