Aphantasia and the Creative Mind
Updated: Aug 30, 2020
How to Imagine when your Mind’s Eye is Blind
Writers love to talk about how we imagine our scenes, how our characters look, even what their favorites colors are. I’ll confess a secret. I have no idea what my characters look like, at least not in more detail than the general sense, which is usually all I provide the reader. I personally conjure up my own idea of what characters look like when I’m reading and suspect many other readers do the same. I also have no idea what they sound like, though, again, I have an idea of the way they talk, the cadence of their speech, the strength of their voice, the language they use.
I don’t imagine what my characters look and sound like because I can’t imagine it, at least not visually.
“Essence. That’s how I remember people, things, places, events. I remember emotions evoked and the feathering of air as people moved through the space surrounding them when I spoke with them.”
I have aphantasia, a condition in which a person can’t visualize in their mind. In short, their mind’s eye is blind. Many, including myself, also can’t recreate sounds, smells, or other sensory inputs. This not only impacts how I imagine things, but how I remember things as well. If you asked me to imagine my mother’s face, I can’t do it. When I close my eyes, there’s darkness, nothing more. But I can describe her face to you, with great detail. I know her, the essence of her.
Essence. That’s how I remember people, things, places, events. I remember emotions evoked and the feathering of air as people moved through the space surrounding them when I spoke with them. I remember if their words or gaze hit or caressed me, if their voice soothed or angered me. I remember the essence of another person, and what the essence of our mingling revealed. This, too, is how I know my characters.
While I cannot visualize my characters and their interactions, I know them, the very essence of each one. I know how they move, how they act, how they feel, even when they don’t. I imagine scenes like a choreographer in a darkened dance studio, feeling my characters move around their space, talking to one another, or not, hands held open or hidden. Aphantasia doesn’t prevent me from remembering, imagining, or writing. It just taught me a different way to do it.
If you’re interested in learning more about aphantasia, here’s a terrific article from Scientific American on it: When the Mind’s Eye is Blind.
Do you or anyone you know have aphantasia? How does it impact your creative mind? Let me know in the comments below!