An interesting post that leads to a fantastic exercise in imagination: Aphantasia: Writing Fiction With No ‘Mind’s Eye’
I’d been writing fiction for more than a decade before I encountered the term “aphantasia,” which describes a rare inability to see mental images in the mind’s eye.
I’d been instructed many times to visualize an image to meditate, relax, remember or write, but when I tried, I saw nothing. Over time, I assumed that “visualize” and “mind’s eye” were figures of speech. I didn’t know other people could literally generate images in their minds without a real-life image to look at.
Media reports suggest aphantasia affects about 2% of the population, or one of every fifty people. The condition may be genetic or the result of trauma. By their own reports, my parents see mental images; my sibling doesn’t.
People with aphantasia learn to substitute other mental processes to work around the lack of mental images to some extent. Instructed to “picture a lemon,” I can think of the color yellow and the classic shape of a lemon. Asked to “picture the letters of the alphabet,” I can sketch them in my mind’s eye, in monochrome, up to about the letter “h,” then I get a vicious headache and have to stop.
This is just so difficult to imagine! I know that undoubtedly plenty of people have a better visual imagination than I do, there’s no doubt a wide, wide range of phenomena in this regard. But knowing that and being able to imagine what it might be like are completely different.
Whenever possible, I visit my settings in real life and write notes about what I observe.
In writing my Fantasy novel, I stuck with Contemporary Fantasy — our world, our time — rather than write about an imagined world. Setting the story where I live, in Ventura, California, gave me plenty of places to see in real life. I scheduled time to visit my settings during the same season and at the same time of day as my characters.
That’s a reason to write contemporary fantasy that never occurred to me!
The link that’s supposed to go to a quiz where you can assess your visual ability is … well, too complicated for me, I guess, or else it makes you sign up for a newsletter, which I don’t want to do. Buzzfeed steps in to fill the need for a much simpler to access, if possibly less valid, quiz. It’s all self-assessment about how clearly you can picture stuff.
Regardless of the validity of quizzes like this, aphantasia and other variability in imagination is just plain interesting. I wonder if anybody has ever written a telepathic character who was puzzled or baffled or confused by the variability in the internal worlds of the people around him. This didn’t occur to me. I’m not sure it’s ever occurred to any author who’s written a telepath.