You have such a big imagination! And you probably don’t even realize how powerful that gift is, yet. Read more to uncover how astounding your ability really is, and learn my deep, dark secret.
Merriam-Webster defines imagination as: “the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.”
And if you’re like the average person, this isn’t a groundbreaking concept. You form mental images all the time. If I veer off subject and start talking about rhinos spinning plates on sticks while dancing the mambo, you’ll probably have an entertaining vision of what I mentioned. And you probably create more mental images throughout the day than you even realize. How many times do you daydream or visualize a new concept?
Can you survive an entire hour without imagining anything at all? How about a full day? Most people would find this pretty difficult if not impossible.
But imagination isn’t solely used to think. It’s important when reading and writing, too. You could probably pick up a novel right now and create a mental image of the characters, setting, and perhaps even details like weapons and clothing. My brother, for example, automatically casts characters as different actors when he reads. How many times have you seen a movie adaptation of your favorite book and thought, “That’s not what they looked like in my head at all!”
And I’ve heard stories of writers who’ve seen their characters’ doppelgangers (complete strangers, mind you) months or years after writing their books.
But I, as an author, have a terrible confession to make:
I have no idea what anything in my stories looks like. Because I have next to no imagination. Don’t get me wrong, I’m more creative than a tornado wearing a cowboy hat to a clown’s funeral. But in the visualization department, I’m running on empty. In fact, sometimes I create character description lists when I write so the visual details won’t vary from one chapter to another. And I know I’m not the only author in this boat.
Imagination exists on a spectrum.
Human imagination ranges across two extremes: hyper-visualization and aphantasia. Most people fall somewhere in the middle. People, probably like you.
Hyper-visualizers can create intricately detailed mental images. When they were envisioning that tornado at the funeral, they could probably tell you what kind of rubble was blowing around, how many people attended the ceremony and how many rings they were wearing, and about the grey metal folding chair in the back with the chips of rust on the right-forward seat corner.
Aphantasia is a complete lack of visual imagery. If you’re having a difficult time wrapping your head around that, this short video does a fabulous job explaining it in about 5 minutes.
Most people with aphantasia think in words, concepts, or some of the other senses.
Personally, I’m not a true aphantasiac. My cognition is largely mechanical/kinetic/emotional/auditory, but I can visualize for split seconds at a time. I simply cannot hold onto those images long enough to do anything useful with them. And I can listen to my characters chat all day (which is probably why I enjoy writing dialogue). But I know that I’ll never “see” them the way most people do.
There’s an even deeper form of aphantasia where people don’t use any of the five senses to think. This is called total aphantasia. People with this think in facts, concepts, and other sub-sensory ways.
If you’d like to know where on the imagination spectrum you are, there’s a quick test here.
PS: Since your imagination is probably way better than mine, I’d LOVE to hear how you see my characters or anything else in Fillius Glint.