Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vivid Imagery: Thinking Without Words

Let me share with you a mental pre-writing exercise I do to improve my imagery. I’m not much of a visual person, so I need to consciously add visuals, and I’m lazy, so I like any thing that theoretically shortens the editing process. Your reasons for trying this out might differ.

So here’s what you do. Sit where there are no distractions and close your eyes. Wear noise reduction head phones, if need be. Now, think about one of your stories. Alternatively, you can see whatever idea comes to mind, or you can start with an image that doesn’t have any attachments. Whatever you’re thinking about, begin banishing all thoughts that contain words. Refuse to even let the words finish forming. Focus on visuals and movement, and anything that doesn’t lend itself instantly to speech. Think without words.

If you just thought, “That’s crazy!” Well, of course it sounds crazy. Crazy is a word, and the word part of your brain thinks of itself as essential to your very being. Words are, after all, the main vehicles by which you communicate ideas to others. Don’t believe me that there is a word part of your brain? It’s called Broca’s area. (Cue Rainbow! The More You Know...) Linguists have a running debate on whether the language you speak shapes the way you think - but the point is, we CAN think without language, and you probably think differently when you think without language’s influence. This can lead to the kinds of ideas that normally wouldn’t even occur to you. Perhaps it will be the germ of a new story, or perhaps you’ll finally light upon something that makes that villain extra memorable.

Example: While practicing this exercise in preparation for this post, I saw a tabby cat with swirls for stripes. Next, a bird with triangles for feathers. There are so many ways I could chose to go with that. Main characters in a children’s book? Golems in a fantasy story? Constructs in steampunk?

And yes, I am essentially asking you to see things that aren’t there. So go to your quiet place, close your eyes, and see what you see.

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