Friday, February 02, 2007
Sometimes I'm envious of movie makers. They want to show something horrific, they just splash it on the screen and it's in your face. You may turn away, but the image has already imprinted itself on your neurons. Visual stimuli are potent for all humans other than those who are blind. We can see what is put before us.
Writers don't have the same luxury, and that's because our medium is not a silver screen but the imaginations of our readers. Literally, readers determine the effectiveness of our prose. Unless the reader can imagine what we describe, we fail. And while visual systems work largely the same in all people who see, imaginations come in a tremendous range of forms and strengths. Ever wonder why others rave about a book that you couldn't force your way through? It's because that book engaged their imaginations and not yours.
This doesn't mean that your imagination is weaker. It's just different. Or, maybe your imagination is stronger than the average. Maybe you weren't engaged because the images that others saw were old hat to you. I think this explains in part why rereading well-loved books from our childhoods can be disappointing. Our imaginations have moved on since that time, have grown fuller with experience.
I began thinking of such things because I'm trying to write a scary scene and it is damn hard. I can see the scene perfectly. If it happened in real life it would scare the bejeebers out of me. But how can I translate what I see into the words that will make others see the same? I suspect that I can't, at least not perfectly. Instead, to write this scene I have to step outside of myself and into a potential reader's imagination. I have to analyze how my words might be interpreted by someone with a different kind of imagination. And I have to remember what is perhaps the most important rule of writing horror.
Let the reader's own imagination do most of the work. The writer is only a facilitator of that process.