Do you write what you see?

The bulk of this post is a repeat from last year. I was reminded of it while reading Cynthia Newberry Martin’s blog post this morning. Since the topic is still worthy of discussion—and I’m frantic with preparations to leave Friday morning for my New York City trip—I decided to repost.

blindfoldedIt seems to me, the difference between the people who love to read and the 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 find it hard to 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 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 driving, for instance—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 sometimes I fail to translate enough details of the “movie” to the page, and I thank my critique partners for pointing out those instances to me. But first, I have to see my story world because if I haven’t, how can I expect to transport my reader there?

After all, isn’t an author’s ability to draw us in and make us lose ourselves in their world, the reason we read fiction?