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What Do You See When You Read?

This Slate article has been making the rounds recently, and it’s something we’ve talked about briefly here on 101 Books before.

That being, how do you imagine the characters in the novels you read?

Do you have a good sense of what they look like? Can you see them clearly in your head? Or is it more of a vague, kinda, sorta image that comes every time you read their name?

If you pick up on specific details the author writes, then you’ll have a decent sense of the character—but do most of us actually formulate images based on what’s written—or just how we want to imagine the character in our heads?

Specifically, for those of you who have read and watched The Lord of the Rings, how do you imagine those characters—and how did you imagine them BEFORE the movies were released?

Having just finished the novel a few weeks ago, I’ll say it was difficult for me to not see Orlando Bloom when I read about Legolas, or Ian Mckellan when Gandalf was mentioned, or Elijah Wood when Frodo appeared.

And that’s a shame, because very little was required of my imagination in that regard.

As this Slate piece says

Incidentally, one should watch a film adaptation of a favorite book only after considering, very carefully, the fact that the casting of the film may very well become the permanent casting of the book in one’s mind. This is a very real hazard.

That’s so true.

The author creates the world in which the characters live. But the reader is in control of how he or she imagines those worlds. Reading is a very subjective experience.

That’s why, sometimes, a movie can hijack your imagination and keep you from having a true reading experience. All that said, I doubt I ever stop watching films based on my favorite novels, but it’s certainly something to keep in mind when I walk into the theater.

Read more over at Slate.

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26 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on Hello from me to you.

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    August 25, 2014
  2. Hiya! I totally agree that once I watch the movie before reading the book, I no longer have the chance to imagine more than what I have already seen in the movie. :<

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    August 25, 2014
  3. It’s hard not to see those actors as the characters because they fit them perfectly, expecially when the make-up and costumes are added. I especially liked how the dwarves were portrayed in The Hobbit movie. But usually the image I have in head hardly changes after I’ve watched the movie either because I’m stubborn or just prefer what I came up with. But I agree that movies can hijack your experience especially if you watch the movie before reading the book.

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    August 25, 2014
  4. Reblogged this on dunjav.

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    August 25, 2014
  5. I see live people.

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    August 25, 2014
  6. If the character description are good, I can get good pictures of them in my head. I always read the books before I watch their movie adaptations, and I’m always interested to see how the actors look (or don’t look) different than how I pictured the characters while reading the books. And yes, once I’ve seen the movies, it’s hard for me to see my original mental image of the characters. Which is unfortunate.

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    August 25, 2014
  7. Oh my gosh, YES! I know what you’re talking about! For me, I want to read the book BEFORE I go see the movie – or possibly before it’s even made into a motion picture if I can. Unfortunately, when I read TFiOS, I already had the movie characters in mind while I was reading it – and I haven’t even seen the movie yet! Kinda crazy, haha.
    I prefer to read the book and imagine what the characters should look like for myself first before I go see a movie… Or I don’t want to envision the movie characters AT ALL as I read the book because the casting choice sucks in my opinion (*coughcoughtwilightcoughcough*) 😛

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    August 25, 2014
  8. It seems hard now to think back to what characters looked like in my head before they were portrayed on the film screen- I think Harry Potter was pretty much as is, but Frodo Baggins never looked like Elijah Woods, and the elves in LotR were… less angelic. One thing I’m always glad about is that no one has yet made a film of an Iain M Banks ‘culture’ novel- i like his drones and spaceships to be ill-defined…

    Like

    August 25, 2014
  9. Alison's Wonderland Recipes #

    Sometimes I subconsciously ignore character descriptions if they come after I’ve already created an image in my head. I read the Artemis Fowl books when I was younger and always imagined Artemis looked something like Draco Malfoy. I was in a bookstore recently and saw some Artemis books that actually have his picture on the cover…turns out he had black hair all this time!

    Liked by 1 person

    August 25, 2014
    • Yes! When I first read Harry Potter I somehow missed that Draco had blonde hair – I actually thought the movie had it wrong, and I had to go back to check! I find that if the author waits too long to give me a description, it’s too late, I already have them in my mind and I just can’t change it. But sometimes I just totally miss the description.

      Liked by 1 person

      August 25, 2014
  10. I love having conversations with people that have read the same books as you and discussing how we picture different characters. It’s funny because sometimes if descriptions of characters are left until after you are introduced to that character I find its hard to get that original image out of your head!

    Liked by 1 person

    August 25, 2014
  11. *gasp* This is so true.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 25, 2014
  12. I am reading Fletch. (It was a book first and somebody donated it to the library!). I am totally picturing Chevy Chase, but often I imagine faceless characters when I read. I don’t often watch the movie, and I quit with Harry Potter when the director made Serious Black’s house lame. I have not read LOTR, and I really don’t plan to…but I listened to the Hobbit. I will probably go watch that.

    Like

    August 25, 2014
  13. This is such a timely post. I was talking about this very issue with friends in the context of whether or not an author should add lengthy descriptions of characters into the text. For me I don’t even see characters much at all and will often gloss over the physical descriptions. Instead I tend to ‘feel’ what the characters do – in a sense becoming them for a while.

    I wrote a blog post here http://thenovelprojectchronicles.com/do-you-see-characters-when-you-read/ discussing this issue.

    Like

    August 25, 2014
  14. This is uncanny! I just wrote a blogpost on similar lines. Yes, I do become a casting director for my fav books. It is more fun to envision a character along concrete lines.
    Have a look at http://sweetyshinde.wordpress.com/2014/08/24/arjun-in-his-image-and-likeness/

    Like

    August 25, 2014
  15. I have such a difficult time imagining scenery. I usually also have a vague image of the characters in my mind. Even after watching a film adaptation, I still have the vague images of the characters unless they happen to be monsters. I can’t imagine Orcs or the Blarog looking differently than the way they were portrayed in the movies. I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t have a clear picture of everything.

    Like

    August 25, 2014
  16. First of all. I congratulate you for finishing this amazing novel. It was a deal between my father and my 11 year old me that I had to read it before being allowed to watch the films (took me 3 month for all six books). I knew what Legolas would look like already back than, but I always mix up Peregrin and Meriadoc when watching, because I think according to my imagination it should be the other way around. Actually I picture the scenery far more in detail than character outward appearance – this really can be a curse, e.g. Farthen Dur in Eragon.

    Like

    August 25, 2014
  17. “The author creates the world in which the characters live. But the reader is in control of how he or she imagines those worlds. Reading is a very subjective experience.”

    And that’s why reading is better. 🙂

    Like

    August 25, 2014
  18. I find I often end up with two versions of characters, places etc – one in the movie, one in the book. They kind of exist side by side to me. I have been known to dash home once I’ve seen a movie made from a book to re-read the book (or at least parts of it) to reiterate my original vision so I don’t lose it to the movie version!

    I find if the movie did a good job and got the characters pretty close to how I saw them (Stephanie Myer’s The Host is a good example, as is the Hunger Games) then I find they kind of meld in my mind with the ones I originally saw. But if they weren’t quite right, then I will always see them as separate versions of a character.

    Like

    August 25, 2014
  19. Reblogged this on Rosevoc2's Blog.

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    August 25, 2014
  20. I read the book, The Postman, a while after watching the film. Though, I enjoyed the film, the book was absolutely fantastic. It completely wiped clean the images the film left, allowing my imagination to take over. Now, this doesn’t happen with every book I’ve read after watching the movie but at least it happened with that story.

    Like

    August 25, 2014
  21. When I read a book I tend to have a very blurry image of them in my head, even if the author has been very descriptive. I tend to imagine the character’s voice and way of speaking more clearly. When I see a movie I start to hear the character’s voice instead of the one I imagined, which can be annoying. But when it comes to a visual image I avoid books with pictures from the movie version as a cover because that limits my already blurry image as I can’t help but pre-judge that character.

    Like

    August 26, 2014
  22. antonyisaias #

    Reblogged this on A Novel Experience and commented:
    For anyone who has seen and read the Song of Ice and Fire series (better known as Game of Thrones) this is an interesting read. Personally I started reading the books after watching series 4 of the show and I found it useful, not limiting, that I could image a tangible representation of each character.

    Like

    August 27, 2014
  23. Monse #

    I like to read books before I watch the movie because I like to imagine the characters first before I see the movie. I agree with you that if you see the movie first, you don’t use a lot of your imagination when you read the book.

    Like

    October 18, 2014
  24. I usually read the book before seeing the movie, because the movie takes a while to come out, while the book comes out faster

    Like

    October 20, 2014

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