Wednesday, 25 August 2010

It's All In The Mind


The method by which one person reads a book and stores the information will differ from that of another. The human brain as I mentioned in a previous post is a complex organ and in terms of reading, it's the bookcase of the body. I have already blogged about this 'storage facility' and its ability to retain the numerous plots and finer details of the many hundreds of books we read.

But what happens when we read one book? Take, for example, a paragraph in my current WIP:

'Mind them cars. Charlie, get off the road, or you'll get knocked down.'
Da had just lifted his wallet out, when there was an almighty flash. I didn't really hear any noise, but within a second, I was lying on the ground, blood dripping from my mouth. A cloud of dust swallowed me up and I heard people, all these women, screaming like mad. I shouted for Da. I tried to crawl out of the dust, but I couldn't see past the grey wall. I didn't know where I was or what was happening. I couldn't feel my legs. The power had left them. I heard a lady shout 'Jesus Christ, help us', then someone else screamed.


What we have here is a scene which relies on visuals. There's a lot going on. When you read through this, do you store the information as a sequence of facts, or do you play out the material in your head, as if you were watching a film?

Storing the information as a mere sequence of facts without visualising would be as follows:
1. Charlie on the road.
2. Dad takes wallet out.
3. Bomb goes off.
4. Charlie on ground injured
5. Pandemonium.
6. Woman yells.

If you choose to read this while visualising the action, the brain will create the whole setting, as long as the author has been explicit enough in the information given to the reader. And it gives a more colourful picture:

Charlie is playing on the road and there are a few cars passing by. Then his dad lifts his wallet out, possibly to go into the bank, or a shop, and there is a flash. Suddenly normal, everyday life becomes chaotic. Charlie is blown to the ground following the bomb blast. He is panicking, and the reader sees the blood dripping from his mouth. The reader will also add the dust to the scene, and he or she may 'take on' the role of Charlie, imagining the chaos dissolving into the background, the image fading. The reader in the role of Charlie may feel 'desperate' to escape this bombing aftermath, given that Charlie is on the ground, trapped by his lack of mobility.

I think it's hard not to 'visualise' what's happening as you read. I put both these methods to the test by reading a chapter of a recent book, firstly making a mental note of everything that occurred, secondly, letting the action unfold visually. The first method is cumbersome and makes reading feel like a chore, not a pleasure.

I'm interested in hearing your methods of reading and storing a book. Do you simply play out the events in pictorial form as I believe most people do, following the characters around, or do you simply remember the information as a series of facts?

8 comments:

Roderic Vincent said...

I'm sure we're heavily influenced by films and by TV news, especially with scenes like the one from your WIP. I've never seen a bomb blast, but I've watched the aftermath many times on tele. Personally I think it's a shame that books ape movies these days, are almost poor person's film, or movies in waiting.

Roderic Vincent said...

Re-reading that comment, I hope it doesn't look like a crit of your (excellent) scene.

I was making a broader point - that your post could almost be called "It's all on the box".

Helen Black said...

I definitely read visually.
I build a visual portrait of the character, then let what's happening 'flow' as I read it.
It's not the same as a film, because it's not crisp, and I'm often steered to see the little telling details, as opposed to the whole picture...but I 'see' it nonetheless.
HB x

Jane Steen said...

I think I combine visual storage with textual storage in some way. I can often remember lines from books I love (usually the ones I've read more than once) by visualizing the words on the page, but at the same time the "movie" plays in my head.

I wonder if people remembered differently in the pre-movie days?

Gillian McDade said...

Thanks for the comments.

Good point, Jane, about the pre-movie days.

By the way, if there are a lot of characters in a book, do you draw a family tree? I do. I had to with Donna Tartt's The Little Friend, and Lalita Tademy's Cane River.

And thanks for the compliments, Rod - you can be my agent ;)

badas2010 said...

Definitely visualise, but memorable phrases or lines stick in the mind, at least for a while.
Interesting point about before movies, but of course they would have always had stage plays, so the same visualising could apply.

Dream it, then do it said...

Definitely visualisation.
But if it is written in the first person, as your extract is, then I tend to live the story rather than watch it. I was lying in the road looking up at the dust and hearing the screams.

Jane said...

i'm a visualiser