Not only are there different writing styles–there are different reading styles too. I don’t mean whether you read fast or slow, whether you read critically or just for fun, or whether you read it all in your head or mouth the words out loud.
No, what I mean is: how does writing, which is essentially nothing more than words strung together in certain patterns, come to life within your mind?
There are two extremes that I’ve come across so far–one end which I call the “Impression Reader”, and the other end which I call the “Description Reader”. To explain the difference, I’ll describe how these two types would envision the same scene: A man, worn down by the world, realises he has nothing left and attempts to reunite with his estranged wife.
What the Impression Reader pictures is based around the feelings conveyed and the specific actions happening in the scene. They see the trembling hand reach out, uncertain if it will be accepted. They see the other hand pull away sharply, the angry shake of the head as the other person steps back. They see the head lowered into the arms, shoulders shaking silently. They see long, deliberate strides, the back receding into the distance.
At the end of a novel, an Impression Reader can tell you all about what happened, running through all the major plot points. They can theorise why characters acted in certain ways, what motivates them, how they would act in any given situation. But were you to ask them what the characters looked like, they wouldn’t have a clue. Silhouettes play out the parts; personalities and emotions encapsulated in a faceless human form.
The Description Reader, however, builds up a vivid picture of the world and the characters. They can envision the characters–faces, clothing, build–in great detail. This isn’t solely based on a description provided by the author; the characters’ personalities also feed into that mental picture. They see the short hair, carefully spiked but with a few unruly strands that just won’t stay in place. They see the piercing black eyes, carefully masking the hurt that lies not far from the surface. They see the teeth stained from years of smoking, his only escape from the world; the hands tucked into pockets and the slouched posture from his air of forced indifference as he waits for his wife to come.
To them, reading a book is like watching a movie. Each scene plays out in the screen of their mind, the people and places vibrant and alive. They have a basic recall of the plot, but what sticks in their mind are the particularly unique descriptions–the table piled high with foods described in loving detail, or the look of the seedy 70s-style bar that the characters found themselves in.
These are, of course, two extremes. There will be varying reading styles in between; people who have the occasional vivid snapshot of a scene, or others who can visualise characters given a detailed description by the author.
There will never be a definitive way of reading, just as there is no definitive way of doing anything in this world. We humans are simply too diverse for that. I’m eager to learn more about how people read – to learn more about how people see these mini-worlds, and by extension, our world. I can’t wait to get impressions and descriptions, in a manner of reading. There’s always more to discover!
Leanne Yong is an aspiring author who is working on a young adult novel with a kick-ass heroine. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and random musings on writing.