Reading: Vision & Imagination

Whether I visualize a story while reading it depends entirely on the skill of the author. Generally, I do. If I don’t, I am likely not to like the story, and to stop reading it. Probably there are exceptions to this. I am trying to say that whether I react to a writer’s description of scenes, sounds, flavors, odors and so on depends on how skillfully the writer presents them to me. Perhaps that is begging the question, but what else can I say!

Certainly I have read stories in which I have been constantly at the elbow of the character, have heard what he heard, saw what he saw, smelled what he smelled, felt joy or pain with him. Equally certainly I have utterly missed doing any of these things in reading other stories.

I can not make any distinction between the effect on my imagination of action, scene, sound, flavor, odor, touch. There may exist a distinction, but if so I am not aware of it.
I am very susceptible to color, yet I think that the pictures I get from reading are black and white; certainly in very low tones. · I would say I see details distinctly.

I can not recall having more trouble with solid geometry than with other mathematics. I believe I found more appeal there. My response is limited to the degree in which an author describes, yes; or, rather, to the degree to which he succeeds in describing. A mere concept will, of course, set me to reproducing, but I won’t get as far.

If the author tells me it’s a rainy day, I can picture a rainy day. But I’m not going to bother to see the reflected light in the pools or the glints on varnished surfaces or the gray mists in the woods. If he’s satisfied, I am, and I go ahead. I had rather, though, have him make it a rainy day to remember instead of just one of a thousand. Of course a writer can overdo description, but just as certainly he can under­do it.

Something should be left to the reader’s imagination, but not everything. One writer tells us “It was raining.” Another tells us “It was raining softly, insistently. In the Park the naked trees were clothed in a pearl-gray mist. A hurrying cab gave back the white light from its dripping varnished roof as from burnished silver.” And so on. From the first description I get the picture of a rainy day; from the last, a description of that particular rainy day. The first makes no appeal to my powers of imagination. The second does. From the second I can go ahead and see a hundred other details that the author doesn’t mention. Not only can, but do. He’s given me the stimulus.

This seems to contradict my opening statement in this paragraph, and I’ll change it. Thus: My response is limited to the degree to which an author provides stimuli.

As a reader I do not use stock pictures. I do not resent having many images formed for me. I cannot possibly know so well as the author what he wishes me to see.

Yes, there is a difference in the behavior of my imagination when writing and when reading. In reading my imagination sort of loafs on the job. It sits back and says, “Let the other fellow do it. I’ll help, of course, but this isn’t my job.”

In writing it gets infernally busy and digs into details in a way that’s positively annoying and wearying. I don’t think I have ever considered these matters as “tools of my trade”. Of course they must be. I mean by that, that no writer can write fiction without making an appeal to one or more of the five senses. Being conscious of it is different. I am not. (The query presents an idea. Why not go in for ”olfactory fiction”? Specialize on stories concerned almost entirely with smells! I have made a note of that.)

American novelist of sports fiction for boys, light romances and adventure. In collaboration with L. H. Bickford, he also wrote as Richard Stillman Powell, notably Phyllis in Bohemia. 1870 – 1944