Where Am I?

August 25, 2017

I’m genuinely interested to hear other readers’ responses to this query about your experience of visualising fictional settings…

Writers often go to great detail in their description of settings – the territory, place, town, building in which their story takes place. Some of us value the depth and the care they take, although I recall from my teaching days that students quite often complained that ‘there’s too much description’; they wanted to get on with the plot, and I realised that in our primarily visual age, with its action-packed plots, they were frustrated by the slow pace of such passages in a novel. But, how does your imagination work when you engage with an author’s descriptive passages?

I almost invariably find that my imagination superimposes the setting of a novel located in an unfamiliar place onto a landscape which I am already familiar with whenever it can: it will use my home town, school campus, or holiday destination I’m familiar with, and merge or blend in the details as and where possible. In other words, somehow, the stored stock of images and memories of a whole lifetime is being called upon to configure the setting for a novel or story… Sometimes I’ll be conscious that this is happening, and other times once I’ve built up a description in my mind, I’ll suddenly be reminded that I’ve modelled it subconsciously on where I went to school, or something like that.

This doesn’t always happen: I don’t have personal stock images of the Antarctic or the Sahara, to pick a couple of examples, but even then my imagination will try and use smaller stock images to fit descriptions of buildings or rooms within such settings, for instance.

I’ve realised I have no recollection of discussing this with anyone. Do I have a lazy imagination, or does everyone’s work in a similar fashion?

2 Responses to “Where Am I?”

  1. Willie Krischke Says:

    I don’t see that you have much choice. Your brain works with the materials it has, which are your lived experiences. A writer who is good at description can give you some new raw materials to work with, but I think you still have to attach them to the structure your own experience provides.

    I hope you don’t mind me getting slightly religious, but as a minister and armchair theologian, I encounter this often whenever we try to talk about the afterlife, or heaven or hell, and often even about God. None of us have ever experienced heaven, so we dress it up with earthly images, because that’s all we can really do. I suspect that whatever heaven is, it is utterly different than anything we’ve ever experienced.


    • litgaz Says:

      Thank you for that – what you’ve said makes sense, in terms of how I was thinking about the topic. And your theological observation chimes with the ways I think about God and the spirit too: in some ways I feel that man (=human beings) creates God in his image, exactly because, as you say, we can have no conception…


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