Fiction or Non-fiction?

DiscussionCategory: QuestionsFiction or Non-fiction?
Jennifer McDougallJennifer McDougall Staff asked 6 months ago

I have read a few blogs now that aphantastics prefer non-fiction over fiction/fantasy novels. What’s been your experience?

Margaret MorganMargaret Morgan replied 6 months ago

I read and enjoy both. I am also a novelist and screenwriter. Interestly, people have commented that my fiction is very “visual”. (My novel features, for example, vivid descriptions of visual synaesthesia, something that is almost the antithesis of aphantasia.)

I’ve thought a lot about how this could be. I do often refer to photos when I am writing description, and I think that when I remember a place I have been, I tend to remember my impressions of the place because I can’t conjure a visual recollection. It is the memory of those non-visual impressions that I use in my writing.

When I read fiction, I don’t, obviously, see in my mind what the writer is describing. That isn’t a drawback, though. There is so much more to reading fiction than the visual.

5 Answers
Nathan BlumenfeldNathan Blumenfeld answered 6 months ago

I love both. Thinking back, I used to fixate on visual descriptions of characters — I would take notes whenever height, eye or hair color, features, etc for a character were noted in the text, to help me construct a full idea of the character, because I couldn’t picture them. This led to some interesting situations where I realized that often what other readers pictured looked nothing like how the character was actually described, and some others where I’d note contradictory information in the text, or note trends such as when an author kept describing heights relative to other characters, to the extent that every main character must have been pretty much towering over the average person.
But at the same time, I tend to skim over lengthy descriptions of locations. Instead, my pleasures are not in "seeing" the narrative but in the texture of the prose, the architecture of the story, etc.

Gordon HallGordon Hall answered 6 months ago


For me it is all about the story obviously I skip over descriptions of scenes I can’t picture.

Katrina WicksKatrina Wicks answered 5 months ago

My husband who is full aphantasia doesn’t appreciate or get fiction in written format at all. I am a fiction writer, so this is how we discovered he had it. Personally though, even though I can imagine, i get quite bored with over descriptive books too, i tend to try and write about the experience the character is having and what they are feeling, not necessarily a huge amount of time on what they are ‘seeing’.

Max WatsonMax Watson answered 5 months ago

I’m a fiction writer and completed my first novel before discovering I have aphantasia. I had to look up pictures of the things I wanted to describe in my novel due to not being able to imagine it but I did not know this was abnormal until a few months ago. I have always enjoyed fiction books but my focus was on the way the story was told, on the imagery the author provided via sensation rather than physical description. I think this is why I love Ray Bradbury so much. All of his writing is less about making the reader envision something as it is about how that something makes you feel, how it conjures dread or fear or wonder.

Stephen AdamsStephen Adams answered 4 months ago

I’m an English teacher and have loved reading fiction and non-fiction since I was a child, though I have developed an increasing preference for factual books and read far more of those than fiction. Despite having an MSc in Psychology I’ve only just discovered the concept of aphantasia and had never previously thought about it, believing that people were talking metaphorically when they mentioned picturing things in their mind – I thought they were doing it just like me, through mental constructs using language.
Thinking back, it has definitely influenced my reading and helps explain what I enjoy about fiction, which is characters’ relationships, behaviour and experiences, I have very little interest in details about their appearance or descriptions of settings unless they are directly relevant to the plot e.g. the run down, dilapidated setting that establishes the dystopian world of Orwell’s 1984: However, I don’t "picture" it in my mind, instead, the words themselves take the place of the "image" for me. Neither do I "smell" the boiled cabbage mentioned though I still fully understand and appreciate what it would smell like and why it is mentioned – in fact, I’m pretty glad I don’t actually smell it!

janet Masonjanet Mason replied 4 months ago

Wow! How stupid am I! I am 65 and only discovered that I was aphantasic last week, when listening to a programme on Radio 4. I can’t see images in my memory or imagination – and like Stephen Adams thought everyone was speaking metaphorically about their mind’s eye (even my husband of 40 years who has a genuine “photographic memory” as I’ve just confirmed). So now I have to ask – can some people recreate other senses in their mind? When you say “neither do I SMELL the boiled cabbage” – well, can some people recreate smells in their imaginations or memories? What about tastes? Or the feel of something on their skin? My memories and my imagination contain aspects of all of these senses – but only in a sort-of word picture – and I can associate the real thing correctly to correlate with my approximation when I come across it in real life. For example I have never yet failed to identify my husband or children in real life, though they are all literally “out of sight, out of mind” to all my senses.

By the way, I’ve always been aware that musical memory has passed me by and never really cared one way or the other – I just never saw it as an aspect of a bigger picture (if you can excuse the metaphor).

And I like fiction and factual books too!

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