It seems to me, the difference between people who love to read and people who are literate, but don’t read for pleasure, is the ability to visualize what you read. If the written word transports you to another world, it’s because you “see” that world. Some people can’t visualize the story. But sometimes even people with that mental eye have a hard time with a book, and that’s the author’s fault. We’ve all heard the admonition to “write what you know” and that’s good advice—then again, you can learn most of what you don’t already know. But can you write what you don’t see?
Now, I have to confess: I don’t know everything about writing, and I don’t write the way the how-to books tell me I should. I don’t start with an outline or proposal. I start with a scene. More specifically, I start with a conversation between the characters in that scene. And more often than not, the scene came from a dream. Maybe that’s why I do most of my writing with my eyes closed … I see the setting, watch the action, listen to the dialogue, and then I open my eyes and type. Even when I’m in a situation where I can’t close my physical eyes—when I’m writing in my head—my mental eye is in that shuttered place where the story plays out. I can’t write what I can’t see.
Of course, the problem is that I sometimes fail to translate enough details of the “movie” to the page, and I thank my writer friends for pointing out those instances to me. Certainly, there’s a need for how-to-write books. I’ve learned a lot from them, and I’ve recommended some of my favorites on my “Books for Writers” page—but the bottom line is: if I haven’t seen my story world, how can I expect to transport my reader there?