Reading: Vision & Imagination

Depends on the author whether I visualize his story-world or not. Some writers can make me see and believe people and places and action that I’d be inclined not to believe-and some writers can make a perfectly ordinary living-room scene look more like a cardboard set than a house. Same with sounds and tastes and smells and touches and feelings.

I think that in the average short story I find the people more real than the settings and action. And it depends a great deal, too, on my mood. If I’m interested in the story as a piece of work ­the sort of job I’m doing myself — it’s more an interesting laying of words end-to-end to make a piece of fiction that’s convincing and readable than anything else. But if I’m not thinking of the story as work – but just as a tale-I can be righteously indignant with the villain and thrilled with the hero.

There aren’t any limitations to “seeing things with my eyes shut” if the writer can make me see them. A writer I like and enjoy — and I like a good many — can make me see things and people and places quite as though I were there; every detail and color and sound and smell and noise as distinct as though it were before me.

If images really are formed, I don’t resent it. But when a writer tries so hard that he merely spoils the image I’ve already formed without giving me anything else, I do.

Stories that I write are more vivid to me than the average story I read. But I think that must always be true; it’s the thing that makes me feel my limitations most: that people and places can be so vivid and real to me and that I can’t make them so vivid and real to other people. Edna Ferber in her Old Man Minick made the old man as real as any one I’ve ever seen or imagined or written about — but I suppose he is much more real to her — and probably different than he is to me.

Yes, I’ve considered these things as “tools of my trade.” A story isn’t much good unless it’s real to the reader, and reality comes through making a person forget it’s a story and actually see and hear and feel.

American author of novels and short stories. 1899 – 1976