Do aphantasic novelists write differently?

As an aphantasic I’ve always found long descriptions in novels boring and tend to skip over them. In fact, for a long time I didn’t know why they were there – perhaps the author was just filling up the word count?! Now I wonder whether there’s been any research into how aphantasic authors write. James Joyce, for example, who had very poor eyesight, doesn’t go in for visual descriptions. But then I noticed this passage in Ulysses and concluded that though he may have had very poor eyesight he wasn’t aphantasic:

‘Fifteen multiplied by. The figures whitened in his mind, unsolved: displeased, he let them fade.’

Has anyone done work on this?


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You should check the youtube page ”pour this with me” the author did a doctorate about the experience of  how visual readers and non visual readers go through while reading the same books

Reply to Andrea Ferretti: Could you post a link to this video? I’d be interested in watching it. Thanks!

I write novels and I definitely don’t like descriptions. My characters don’t have a “look”, except when a feature of their appearance strikes another character in some way. Also, I tend not to describe landscapes as reading landscape descriptions in novels bore me to tears. Again, I make an exception when the landscape is somehow relevant to the action.

I was beginning to think authors were paid by the word🤣 I prefer nonfiction and murder mysteries to fiction. I don’t care what color the wallpaper is. Skip all the descriptive crap of no interest. I read constantly and love it. I don’t seem to read words… sort of clumps or concepts. Have been reading since age three.

Oh my gosh, thank you for posting this! I had never connected this to my aphantasia before but my whole life I’ve been an avid reader, especially fiction when I was younger, and frequently found myself skipping over description and looking for where the dialogue starts up again!

I have been thinking about this a lot! I decided that part of the reason I really struggled to enjoy reading and with reading comprehension is because of aphantasia. I get soooo bored reading descriptions and end up skipping over it, too. Why would I want information that I can’t visualize? I also really struggled with reading comprehension in school. I wonder if it’s connected.

I’m 52 and only realized I was an aphant about 10 days ago. I think I do dream visually, but I have no visual mind’s eye. Always had trouble with memories, and remembering faces. I used to joke that I needed a chronicler to follow me around because I couldn’t remember things. 

I’ve also been a professional fiction writer for the past 23 years.

I write thrillers. I’ve written several dozen, and I’ve sold several million books. Readers seem to like my stuff.

That said, I could never do description well. As a result, I always have to remind myself to add visual details. I have never been able to picture the characters I write about. 

I know I write differently than my peers, especially since I have co-written with many. I can plot very fast, because I “see” scenes as connections among words and ideas. So if A, B, and C have happened in a story, I can quickly find E, F, and G. And I mean really quickly. 

The same is for jokes. I’ve always had the (annoying?) skill of being able to automatically match any situation, conversation, or fact, with a joke, and to do it instantly. My brain finds connections, and then presupposition allows me to see the reasonable response, and then the incongruous, humorous response.

So for me, writing is about what happens next. Lots of dialog and action, very little description. Plotting is a giant word cloud of themes and ideas and conflicts that weave together in my mind in an obvious way; at least it’s obvious to me as I write it.

I jot down notes and ideas on character arcs, story goals, suspense and drama, and then string these in a pleasing order to best tell the narrative. I don’t want to say it’s like math, or that it’s a formula. It’s more organic, like cooking without a recipe or pictures, but knowing how something will turn out. Or like planning 3 moves ahead in a chess game. But when I play chess, I have to look at the board. 

I can hear music in my head when I think about songs, and my internal voice sounds like me. I can imagine tastes and smells, but I’m not sure how accurate I am, because I’m still amazed that when someone imagines a banana they actually can visualize a banana. For over five decades I thought that was hyperbole.

So TL:DR–I write fiction the same way I’d verbally describe a movie I saw to a friend, except it’s a movie I make up using words instead of images. 

Also I find it interesting that I can’t type, because I can’t imagine the keyboard. Looking at the keyboard I can hunt and peck about 60 words a minute. Once I look away, I can’t type.

I hope that answers your question. 🙂

Thanks Joe. That’s a great insight. One point: I can touch type just fine. For me, visualising the keyboard wasn’t necessary, you can look at it while you develop muscle memory for where letters are in relationship to each other. But I dare say if you can peck just fine there’s no need to learn. But I’m a counter case to your suggestion that it might be to do with aphantasia.

Hi Joe, this (do aphants write differently) has always been a question for me. I like old science fiction, because I think it was more logical than the newer imaginative stuff that confuses me.  I also dream, though vaguely, feeling I know who the people in my dreams are, but not waking up and realizing I had dreamed about a person I know. When I am relaxing and I ‘see’ something in my mind I know I am asleep! And I frequently have music in my head. Occasionally someone will say something that is a line in a song, generally a musical, and I will respond with the following words from the song. While I can’t “imagine” things in my mine, I know what they are and can describe them. I should read some of your stuff…  Just checked, our Library, Arlington VA, has five of them!