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Author Topic: How do you "visualize" what's going on in your stories?
Beth
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Over at Liberty Hall, Mike posted some graphs and I was struggling to understand them, because I'm not strongly visual. Mike asked me "How then do you visualize what is going on in your stories?"

I didn't know how to answer that. I don't see scenes or anything but I can't figure out how to explain how I "see" stories. I do somehow sense patterns and shapes, but it's not visual. I almost want to say it's more tactile but that's not quite right either.

So I'm curious to see if anyone else can explain how they "see" stories, particularly if it's not visual.

note: I'm not concerned that I'm doing it "wrong" or anything, and I'm certainly not advocating that people stop seeing stories visually! I'm just trying to get more clarity on how my processes work by talking it out, and seeing how it works for other people.

This question may not even make sense to anyone; no worries if you don't know what I'm talking about. I'm not sure what I'm talking about, either.


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HSO
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I see and hear stories in my head. I can see settings clearly enough. I can visualize my characters as if they were in a movie. And I hear dialogue as if it's been spoken aloud -- most of the time, that is.

But there are times when I'm writing on some sort of subconscious level. I've written pages of stuff without visualizing it all... it just came out somehow.

It's weird.


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cklabyrinth
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I'm in the same boat as you. In 7th grade we had a test to see whether we were audio or visual learners, and I answered to the audio side on pretty much all of the questions. It's a bit hard to remember things visually, but if I hear things, or read things to myself, I'll remember them for about twenty years.

As far as my stories go, it's hard to say how I work them out. It's definitely not visually, though. I normally just think to myself whether or not that's something my character would do, or if that detail of the world I'm trying to build would fit. I can't really define it, either, but I know it isn't visual.

Oh and if you're talking about the graphs he posted for the Flash schedules.. I gave up on making any sense of those after about five minutes.


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GZ
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I'm very visual. The Flash Challenge Graphs made perfect sense to me I hate when people explain things without a visual (Especially math! Verbally going through figures with me is pointless. Math on paper, no problem.)

Anyway...I don't always have a very fine level of detail in my mental pictures, either for writing or when reading. It's not in sharp focus, like a movie, but sort of fuzzy with just a few things more in focus. It's not as though I don't know exactly what things look like though; I've walked past people in a crowd and was struck by them looking exactly like a character, even through the character was always pictured in the soft focus way. There is almost a vaguely tactile part of the picture as well. Dialog can have that effect a bit too (have a feel, that is).

[This message has been edited by GZ (edited May 26, 2005).]


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djvdakota
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Don't know how I'd be classified, but when it comes to figuring out problems I cannot visualize internally. I have to see it on paper. I draw diagrams and little pictures, or sometimes have to ask someone who is explaining something to me to draw it out.

When it comes to writing, it's like I can hear the voices in my head, it's like I know the characters and I can write what they would do and think. If I have something that's puzzling me a bit I have to...yup, you guessed it...draw a picture.

For example, what a character might be wearing. In order to describe it, it helps for me to sketch it first.

[This message has been edited by djvdakota (edited May 26, 2005).]


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MaryRobinette
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I seem to be one of those people who think in 3D. I can imagine a thing and turn it around in my head, which is handy when I'm designing.

When I'm reading, words make pictures in my head. Conversely, sometimes I'm walking down the street and discover than my interal narrator is busily at work. So, when I'm writing, I try to visualize the scene and then turn it over to the internal narrator. I sometimes type with my eyes closed for the really tricky bits. Othertimes, the words come first and the images follow.

[This message has been edited by MaryRobinette (edited May 26, 2005).]


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Isaiah13
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When it comes to the scenery/setting, I'm totally on the visual side. Characters, on the other hand, are entirely different. I rarely see the people in my stories with any degree of clarity. I might get a sense of hair and eye color, height and build, but that's usually about it. Everything else is fuzzy and indistinct, like a half forgotten image from a dream.
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Beth
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This is really interesting! I have no idea what any of my characters look like. Gender and age, and that's about it.

dakota- is it the act of drawing the picture that clarifies things for you? or looking at the picture when it's done?


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TaShaJaRo
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Only once in awhile do I see a crystal clear visual image in my head of my characters or the setting. I know things about them, what they look like, how they would move, etc., but I do not see it like a movie in my head. I wish I would! It would be awesome to be able to see them all with such clarity. If I ever do get published, I hope that I can talk them out of putting a picture of the character on the cover because I know that no matter what they come up with it will look wrong to me. If they ask what it should look like, I won't be able to give a decent answer.
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mikemunsil
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quote:
I seem to be one of those people who think in 3D. I can imagine a thing and turn it around in my head,

This is me exactly. Most geologists are. If we aren't, it's almost impossible to make it through just the 3rd geology class in college. That's why the 3rd class had a 50% flunk rate.


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HSO
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ooh! Me, too, on the 3D thing. But this is because it's necessary for doing CAD work. Have to think in 3D... sketch in 2D, then design in 3D.
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RaymondJohn34
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Totally Visual for me....When I'm creating my own story, its like a giant movie screen in my head, playing scene after scene....Dialogue is hard to hear LOL.
Dialogue usually comes to me after I've written the scene pretty much from memory and then think about what was being said in my head....I usually have to re-write the dialogue a few times before I think it sounds like normal dialogue....I should be thankful for the trade-off, but sometimes its pretty irritating knowing that a conversation is sometimes too long and usually unnecessary.
--Raymond John

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Elan
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I'm very visual in my head (my background as a graphic designer helps here). I literally see the scene and I simply describe it in my writing. The dialog between actors is like an improv acting scene. I literally transcribe what I imagine the characters say to each other, given that I know the internal point of view the character holds. At times I feel like nothing more than a transcriptionist.
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djvdakota
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Beth,
quote:
dakota- is it the act of drawing the picture that clarifies things for you? or looking at the picture when it's done?

A little of both, I think. For characters I'll get out my sketch book and draw and draw and draw them until a face comes out that sits right. I can't see them in my head. But I recognize them when I see them. Weird, eh?

Then when I've done a drawing I like I put it up on my wall for inspiration as I go. Sometimes I'll sketch out scenes, scenery, places, whatever I need help visualizing--and I go through the same process for them all. Sketch and sketch and sketch. But people are by far the hardest.

Funny, I don't need to do this for short stories. But for my novel's first draft it was absolutely essential. Helped keep each character firmly in my mind.


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Lord Darkstorm
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And for those of use who do both? I read, and my mind makes it visible. When I write, it is half feeling, and half watching my own words turn into images. Unlike reading while writing the images can be altered and switched to whatever concepts I come up with. I can hear the characters as they speak, but their gestures I don't see I just know they are making them. I learn most of my programming from books, which has no real visual side.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Have any of you ever "cast" your characters from faces already out there, particularly celebrities?

I love to "cast" characters in my stories, but then, I also love to make up my own casts for some of my favorite books.

Being able to say that this actor or that actress could play the part of this or that character in one of my stories helps me to visualize the character.


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Lord Darkstorm
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It might sound strange, but rarely do I make detailed images of any characters in my head. They are a bit vauge, and only pick up more detail when the story needs it.
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dpatridge
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and i'm a completely different kind of person.

my stories fit together like a puzzle. this theme connects to that internal characterization connects to that plot twist.

i'm a very detail-oriented person, the story evolves as i put the pieces together.

which is also a little odd, because i am also an on-the-fly writer when it comes to the plot.

i develop the themes, characters, milieu, all that stuff, and then toss them into a situation and let the details of plot develop as the way the characters and milieu respond to the situation.


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Beth
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dpatridge - but how do you percieve the puzzle pieces? visually? do you see/touch shapes? do you tell what the pattern is by feel?
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Beth
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LDS - when you say "feeling" up there - do you mean in a tactile way? or an emotional way?
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dpatridge
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it's just... a pattern. i know it's there, and i can sort of sense where it fits. it's really like a 6th sense, it doesn't tie in with any known sense.

this pattern sense also spills over into just about everything i do. i learn patterns... yeah, REALLY weird.


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Beth
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no, no, it's not weird, that's very much what it's like for me, and I'm struggling to find a way to describe it. shapes and patterns, but it's not quite visual, although sometimes there are lines and curves and I can sketch the pattern out. it's not quite tactile - not literally tactile, more like if you close your eyes and imagine you're touching something.


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autumnmuse
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I am both visual and aural. When I memorize things I look at them on the page and then say them out loud. Then, when I repeat them out loud to myself later, the aural word conjurs back the visual picture.

As far as writing, I see my situations just like when I dream. That is, I usually can see the whole picture with a fair amount of detail, but I can also zoom in pretty tight, like to inside the mind of a character. At that level I can hear, feel, see, smell and taste everything the character does. For example, in my story Respite, I could actually see the beach scene like I was watching it in a movie, then when I was using Ann's POV I could feel my spine creaking when the wagon went over bumps, feel the tightness across the abdomen when she had a contraction, smell the sweat on her neck from the heat, etc.

In dreams, it is the same, and sometimes I can change what happens in the dream if I want to (although when I do that the dream usually starts over at the beginning and is the same until it gets to the part I changed).


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RaymondJohn34
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Hello Kathleen....
You asked:
Have any of you ever "cast" your characters from faces already out there, particularly celebrities?

I have in the early stages of my writing, but not the faces of famous celebrities. Since my Story is Fantasy, I basicly looked for pictures or magazines that I could bring as close to fantasy as possible, such as Muscle Magazines, Sports Magazines. These were mainly for the 'men' faces and bodies for my story. For the woman, I would look through glamor magazines that had women dressed in gowns or dresses and sometimes swim-wear magazines. Many of the faces I found in these magazines, would fit the image I had already thought up, but somehow, it was these people's faces that would always bring themselves into view when I thought of a scene with the character I was writing.
I could never put a face of a famous celebrity on any of my characters. I always felt that when I was watching a movie with the celebrity, I would feel some kind of betrayal LOL. On the other hand, if somehow I seen the image of someone I had taken for the image of my characters, I would say: "Oh, Cool...There's so-and-so...."
But only in my head of course....wouldn't want anyone to think I was totally wierd.
--Raymond John


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Lord Darkstorm
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When I'm writing a character that I relate to, I can feel their emotions. I also use feelings to judge the writing as well. Some sentances feel correct, while others don't.

If I could only get that grammar down...hehe


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MaryRobinette
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quote:
Have any of you ever "cast" your characters from faces already out there, particularly celebrities?

Oh, absolutely. That's the easiest way to get different speech patterns for characters.

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Survivor
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Huh.

For me, it isn't natural to think of my characters as looking like other people. I see humans as all looking like humans, and individuals as looking distinct, but recognizing a human as distinctive from humans generally and yet simlar to another human isn't my usual pattern.

I know what Beth is trying to say, and I think that dpartridge came close with the comparison to a puzzle. I guess that Beth thinks so too.

I personally have a very high index for visual stimuli. But my other sensory input indexes are just as high, some higher (when compared with a human scale, at least). If someone just looked at my raw indexes compared to a human norm, they'd probably rate me as an "olfactory" type.

But my conceptualization isn't based on a sensory model, strictly speaking. For me ideas start out as abstract logic, only being tested against sensory models for purposes of articulation (it can be embarrassing, one time I was thinking of the world as a cylinder rather than a sphere and I didn't catch it because I was only visualizing the range between the tropics).


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djvdakota
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quote:
Have any of you ever "cast" your characters from faces already out there, particularly celebrities?

Not celebrities. But I'm ALWAYS looking for my characters in the faces I see in public or in pictures. I watch them and see if their movements and attitudes seem familiar. I store that away in my locker of knowledge on the character and he becomes even more real to me.

For example: I once saw a picture of a guy in the newspaper. He was short, but had attitude, pluck, spunk, with his arms crossed over his chest. This man was short, but strong--both in body and character, I expected. He was Jeshua. Another time I saw a tall blond guy at the supermarket. He seemed to be barely tolerating having to be there. He seemed proud and pompous, but charming, with an underlayment of potential for serious anger or violence. He was Strahan.


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Keeley
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"Cast" my characters from celebrities? Sometimes.

The most recent occurance was when I was thinking about a character who was supposed to be impossibly thin for a guy and kind of funny looking, but not in a bad way. You know, the kind of guy where your initial reaction is "he looks a little funny" but doesn't last long.

I realized that there was a particular guitarist I'd seen in concert a few months previous to the creation of this character. I'd had the exact same reaction to him that I wanted other characters to have to my thin character. So, I have a few pics of him now that I have lying around for viewing whenever I work on that story's background. It's really helping me find the words to describe my character.

However, this guy's personality is completely different from my character. He's very nice (from what I hear) whereas my character, though nice as well, is a bit more gruff and far more aloof. It's kind of weird because I'm afraid I'll start projecting that personality onto this guitarist and I haven't even met him yet.

(Don't want to either. Not because I'm afraid I'll be disappointed, but because I would probably make such a complete fool of myself that he would never forget me. Ever.)


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AstroStewart
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Perhaps going even further than visualizing anything I read as a movie in my head, I can't even write a scene unless I sit down and visualize what happens first. Or at least, I can't write it very well. Similarly, my characters don't seem real unless I sit down and think about what they look like. As for what they sound like, I really haven't thought about it. The scenes in my head are as if all of the characters have little text bubbles above their heads for dialogue. I guess that must make me a visual person.

For any scene where people are fighting also. Although I've read alot of action scenes in various books where the author mostly tells you about the emotions and the basic feel of the character who is fighting, I personally can't write, for example, two people clashing swords unless I sit down and think of each movement. If person X brings up his arm and blocks person Y's swing, what position are his arms in, how could he counterattack, etc.

Maybe its the physicist in me coming out, but unless I can sit down and figure out what movements are physically possible / reasonable, I can't write action scenes at all.

Short answer: I have to visualize what I write, I can't even imagine what it would be like to be able to write it without seeing it in my mind's eye...


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Meenie
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I "see" my story and "hear" my characters, and am "there" with them when it happens.
I can experience the scene through any of them. Maybe I have a personality disorder?? LOL
Meenie

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bladeofwords
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I see everything that I write, but it's almost as if I'm seeing it through a haze, sort of like in allegory of the cave. I have brief moments when the fog dissipates and I am there, feeling it (at which point I am usually too overwhelmed to keep writing). But yeah, the majority of the time I see practically everything but I see it through a haze.

Just a story that my friend always brings up whenever I talk about writing. Apparently, during some of the planning sessions for the first harry potter movie the screenwriters and producers and such were having a meeting with J.K. Rowling and they were going over some of the shots in the movie when she stopped them. Here is a rough paraphrase of the story (as I heard it).

"Um...that's not where that goes."
"what?" they say, all looking at her.
"that's not where that goes. It goes over here?"
"What?" they say again, assuming that this hadn't already been decided.
"Here. look," and she proceded to draw out, in detail, a complete map of hogwarts.

I'm sure most of you don't care, but when I first heard this story I said, "duh. Other people don't think like that?" But the answer is obvious. I thought it was only writers that thought like this, but apparently not even all writers think like this. Interesting.

Jon


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Spaceman
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Strange, I didn't see anybody comment that they visualize in the same way I visualize. When I'm thinking of a scene, I'm actually there, inside the body of the PV character if it's first or tight third person. Even for a more distant third person, I'm in the room watching the scene unfold.

Case in point, in my first novel, when the POV character's father figure died, it was a very emotional experience because I was there. I watched his actions from a corner of the room, and I felt his emotions from inside his head.


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M_LaVerne
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I'd never make a graph for a story, but, at least for me, a story idea begins in my gut. I have to feel something either for a character or an idea but mostly a character. Once I have that much...the rest is guess work or spending time with that character.

[This message has been edited by M_LaVerne (edited June 11, 2005).]


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Void
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Spaceman--I would call that a gift.
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Monolith
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I don't know if I'm saying this right or not, but, I write what I think should happen next. You know, what you (the reader) would like to see the viewpoint character do, or a certain way he/she should act.

As for the emotions of the character's, I kind of imagine what I'd do in their shoes.

Right now, I have a character who's father is killed defending his village and the young man falls apart then becomes a bit despondent(spelled wrong I think). He just goes about and helps repair what damage he could to the village.

As for the "casting" of celebrities in my stories, sure I try to figure out who'd take the character,run with it and who I'd think would do them justice. Most of the time with small bit actors.

But you know that's just me.

-Monlith-


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KatFeete
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I'm feeling rather left out, because I don't visualize. Much of the time writing is like tuning into a radio show - I hear voices and intonations perfectly, but there's nothing else. Frequently I see the characters very clearly and see what they're doing, the hand gestures, the facial expressions. But the background? Zip. I only know something's in the room if the characters handle it or talk about it.

Yeah, I write a lot of dialogue.

I trained myself to draw maps early on, but when my beta readers kept complaining about the lack of description, I started - ah, this is a bit embarrassing - I started using Inform, a text-adventure programming language, to "draw" all my rooms. It's helped a little, though I still need more description.

[This message has been edited by KatFeete (edited June 12, 2005).]

[This message has been edited by KatFeete (edited June 12, 2005).]


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Meenie
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I relate to that, Spaceman. I AM the character I'm writing at that moment.
Meenie

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Gingivere
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Hmm, well, for the most part I can see pretty clearly what's going on I think, but the problem is, I can really only see it after I've written it. After that, the characters just sort of stand there tapping their feet and yawning, waiting to see what happens next. (The backgrounds are usually really clear, but the characters can be sort of blurry)

I did have one abandoned novel, where the characters took over. Fun to write, but I had no clue where the story was going, and unfortunately that showed up in the writing. If I ever work out a plot start to finish, I may try that one again from scratch.

With a short fantasy story I'm finishing, it's almost like a cartoon. First I "saw" the images, like they were illustrations in a picture book, and then once I began "hearing" the dialogue, they became animated cartoons. My memory is like that; first I remember what an event looked like, and then that triggers the audio.

As for celebrity castings, I can't say as I've ever done that. Not to say that I won't ever try it, though.

[This message has been edited by Gingivere (edited June 12, 2005).]


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Shendülféa
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When I visualize a story, it's like a live action movie playing through my head, special effects and even music included. Then I just write down what I see and hear.
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rickfisher
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I go the Spaceman route. But it doesn't help my character development much, since I tend to be overly calm and restrained (read: apathetic, cold fish). It also doesn't help my awareness of surroundings much, since I'm not highly perceptive in that regard (read: oblivious).

Still, I can't imagine doing it any other way. If I tried to do it like Shendülféa, say, or Monolith, I wouldn't be able to keep track of POV--and I'm not ready yet (if ever) to write omniscient, except perhaps for a very short story. And the ways some of the rest of you describe it--I wouldn't have any clue what was going on. You all have my respect.

[This message has been edited by rickfisher (edited June 12, 2005).]


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Spaceman
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>Spaceman--I would call that a gift.

The hard part is getting the experience from my head to the paper. That's the real gift.


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goatboy
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Apparently, I do mine a little different than everybody else. I see a series of relatively detailed snapshots. I can manipulate the snapshots, moving the characters around, and changing angles and views. Between them is a lot of not much. For a short story, I may have a starting snapshot and an ending one with nothing in between.

As soon as the action starts and the characters beging to move the opening snapsot turns grey. Dialogue is delivered by faceless characters either line by line or in short spurts. Detail is lost in preference to finding my way through the swamp. Once I've connected the path from snapshot to snapshot, I go back and dump in some extra fill dirt. By the time I'm done, hopefully no one will know how deep the water was when I first came through.


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tchernabyelo
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With regard to visualising characters - I tend to have a pretty clear idea of what my main characters look like, and I can generally picture their surroundings - architecture, countryside, all that kind of thing. I don't "storyboard" at all, though, the way some people on here seem to be describing.

One thing I recently tried was to actually use my PC to create my characters. Sims 2 allows you an astonishing level of detail over facial features and I really have been able to create visuals that pretty much match how I see some of my protaganists. Sadly, the software doesn't have the right range of medieval/renaissance/etc clothing options, and it only has two body shapes per age category, so I can't (for example) make Angelaki look a head taller than Yvane, which she actually is.

Does anyone know if there actually is a good software tool that allows you to design peopole's faces, bodies, clothing, etc? It would be great fun, and a fantastic excuse for not actually getting my weekly target of words done


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rustafarianblackpolarbear
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as i was reading everyone elses responses, it wasn't like visualising or anything, but it made it a lot easier to describe what i want to say now.
first of all, i dont really visualise. i just come up with what i want to write about and give it about 24 hours. after that i generally find it very easy to just start writing. i probably do visualise subconsciously in those 24hours but consciously i can't actually imagine my story world.
I was wondering if any one here dreams of actually being in their story world. I've never done it myself but I do often have dreams of fantastic worlds and was wondering if anyone know how to prompt a dream set in their own story world.

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kkmmaacc
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This is a little bit off topic -- but the posts about thinking in 3D and turning objects in your mind sparked a memory. Have y'all heard about this before? Researchers have figured out that, on average, people require 1 second for every 50 degrees of mental rotation. Here's a good summary that I found doing a quick google search:

http://coglab.wadsworth.com/experiments/MentalRotation/

I also remember that, on average, men can do mental rotation faster than women, although there is a standing disagreement over whether this is biological or cultural. Another quick google search reveals one recent study showing that 5-year-old boys are faster than 5-year-old girls, but also another study showing that the gender difference is smaller if you study, say, PhD students. Other things that turned up:

*people with high scores on a standardized test of spatial cognition rotate faster
*people rotate more slowly if told that the objects are very heavy

Intriguing.

Maybe they should study whether there is a correlation with writing style and rotation speed!

-K.


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Survivor
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That sounds pretty bogus as "science". It's like asking men how often they think about sex. Technically, I'm thinking about sex every time I use any pronoun, so "every seven seconds" is actually suspiciously low. And as that "heavy things rotate slower" shows, all you're measuring is about how fast people think a thing should rotate, not how fast they could actually mentally rotate it.

But then, I couldn't get to the page, so I don't really know that they were claiming it was anything more significant than that. I mean, if you've ever watched small children, it's obvious that small boys like things to rotate/move/fly/go-through-delicate-objects faster than girls or adults tend to like. And that probably does have some deep significance related to our biological heritage.


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kkmmaacc
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Survivor, I'm not sure what your exact objection is, so I'm not sure exactly how to reply. I am confident, however, that if you knew more about the research, you would agree that is it genuine science ("genuine" being, according to my sources, the correct antonym for "bogus").

The seminal work in this field was published in Science in 1971, and started a research area that is still very active today. The mastermind of the research was cognitive psychologist Dr. Roger Shepard of Stanford University. In 1995 he was awarded the National Medal of Science for his on mental rotation. The literature on mental rotation is standardly taught in cognitive psychology courses. You could (and people do) give differing explanations for exactly what cognitive processes underlie the findings. I do not believe, however, that they could reasonably be regarded as non-scientific.

The conclusion is based on experiments where two images are presented -- subjects are told to press one key if they are identical, and another if they are different. They are told to push the "same" key even if one object is a mirror image or a rotated version of the other. Reaction times (RTs) are measured. RT turns out to be highly correlated with the amount of angular disparity between the images. In fact, RT turns out to be a simple linear function of degree of angular disparity. This means that you can use the RT data to calculate a mental rotation speed, and that this number will hold (not perfectly, but *remarkably* well) across subjects. If you do that for men only, you get a slightly faster rotation speed than if you do it for women only. As I pointed out in my previous post, no one really knows why that is.

Thanks for your comments.

Best,

K.

[This message has been edited by kkmmaacc (edited June 17, 2005).]

[This message has been edited by kkmmaacc (edited June 17, 2005).]


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Survivor
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No, I got the page this time, and I can see that...um, I got a wrong impression based on your description (which, to be fair, is taken from the language used on that page, so it isn't exactly your fault).

To be fair to me, saying "people with high scores on a standardized test of spatial cognition rotate faster" is obviously a tautology if you use a standardized text of spatial cognition to measure "mental rotation". I just assumed that you wouldn't have used a tautology like that...but you did.


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kkmmaacc
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I'm sorry if I was a bit telegraphic. I suppose I figured that the link was clear enough that I didn't need to repeat all the details there in my post.

I can see how the statement about standardized spatial cognition tests was pretty vague. I assume that the test used in that study was non-rotational in nature -- such as judging the speed of moving objects or finding hidden objects in a picture -- but I suppose I should have spelled that out more clearly, since it obviously confused at least one person. I apologize for that, but in my defense, the page my google search turned up was a short conference abstract, and didn't have the same sort of detail you would get in a full paper: they didn't say specifically what test they used, just that it was a standardized one.

Best,

K.


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