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How Drawing Makes Me a Better Reader

16 June 2019

From Bookriot:

The Edward Cullen portrayed by Robert Pattinson in Twilight was not what I pictured. Despite having read the book several times and a clear description that points out Edward’s “bronze” hair, somehow I imagined him with black, curly hair a bit past his ears. Imagine my surprise when, after seeing the movie, I went back to the text and saw that, huh, yeah, he does have bronze hair. Who knew?

Physical character descriptions have always eluded me. For however many times I’ve seen the phrase “almond-shaped” in reference to eyes — on the occasions I do pick up on physical descriptions — I still don’t know exactly what that means. (To be fair, I’ve also Googled it and there doesn’t actually seem to be a consensus on that particular image. At least not as far as you can trust a Google Image search to represent a concept.) And unlike many readers, I don’t think I really picture characters and scenes in my head as I read. It may work that way for Sam in iCarly, but not me.

. . . .

I struggle to visualize characters, settings, and whatever other visual descriptions in my mind’s eye. Either I come up with something that is definitely not what the author describes or I picture nothing at all. I just don’t have a picture playing in my head as I read. It’s probably why when I finish a book (never before, because spoilers!) I like to look at fan art. Oh, I think, that’s what that person is supposed to look like. I’m always sort of surprised at how many artists end up with similar concepts for fan art — had all of these details been in the text and I really missed that much?

. . . .

When I’m not reading, one of the things I like to do is draw. I don’t do it as often as I would like, but when I do, it actually does help me to better comprehend visual descriptions in text. If I’m working at a drawing of someone who’s got a thin nose, the act of drawing that nose reinforces the adjective and when I read it in text, the picture is sharper for me.

Not only does the act of drawing help to emphasize and reinforce the actual function of an adjective’s definition, but it also encourages me to pay greater attention to those small details. Especially if I’m creating my own fan art, I need to make a more conscious effort to be aware of physical descriptions. This means I’m also reading the text in general more closely. A sentence may start off about the many adventures of a cowgirl on the run, but there could be a detail about the particular coppery hue of her braid that I would have missed if I were to read more casually.

. . . .

Is “deep reading” better than “surface reading”? Of course not. There are books that perhaps call for closer readings and some that are just fine with a more superficial skim. But like most other things, the quality — quality here meaning the richness of comprehension, not necessarily superiority — and the quantity of your reading activities are often inversely correlated.

Link to the rest at Bookriot

PG did an image search and found the following from Kendra Powell:


4 Comments to “How Drawing Makes Me a Better Reader”

  1. Drawing certainly makes me a better writer, so… rock on. *bobs head*

  2. This sounds like a painful problem. But at the same time, writers can cause confusion by using outdated or obscure descriptions. I was once vexed by descriptions that compared characters to Kewpie dolls. Was such a character cute, or ugly, or weird looking if she resembles one? Pre-Google, I was clueless.

    But, when my cousin said she encountered a cheerleader at my high school who looked like a Cabbage Patch doll, I knew exactly who she meant. I just wouldn’t use that description in fiction, though. Same with a college classmate I referred to as “the Fraggle” (it was his hairstyle; he was not Henson-muppet green). Young readers probably wouldn’t get it.

    Other vexations: Is Nancy Drew’s friend, Bess Marvin overweight? She was “pleasingly plump,” says the description, but on the covers of the hardback originals she appears to have the same figure as Nancy and George, and George is specifically the athletic one. Bess is never illustrated with a different physique from them.

    Winged eyebrows? Does that mean the person’s eyebrows were so bushy they projected up and way from the person’s face, like Thufir Hawat’s? (The Freddie Jones version). Or shaped like the eyebrows of Tarantino’s Pai Mei character? Google did not help with answering this.

    Someone once explained what REH meant by describing Conan as “clean-limbed,” but I only recall that it definitely had nothing to do with hygiene. A historian amused me by constantly referring to a Roman-era ceiling construction as like “a Holland’s gin bottle.” That wasn’t so bad, since even without Google I could still just go to the liquor store if I really wanted to know.

    True, the OP should pay closer attention to the available descriptions, but writers should meet readers halfway, I think.

    • Ah, the ‘Famous Blue Stone of Galveston’ problem.

      From the original Blackadder:

      Percy: You know, they do say that the Infanta’s eyes are more beautiful than the famous Stone of Galveston.

      Blackadder: Mmm! (beat) What?

      Percy: The famous Stone of Galveston, my lord.

      Blackadder: And what’s that, exactly?

      Percy: Well, it’s a famous blue stone… and it comes… from Galveston.

      Blackadder: I see. And what about it?

      Percy: Well, my lord, the Infanta’s eyes are bluer than it, for a start.

      Blackadder: I see. And have you ever seen this stone?

      Percy (nodding vigorously): N…no. Not as such, my lord. But I know a couple of people who have, and they say it’s very, very blue indeed.

      Blackadder: And have these people seen the Infanta’s eyes?

      Percy: No, I shouldn’t think so, my lord.

      Blackadder: And neither have you, presumably.

      Percy: No, my lord.

      Blackadder: Then what you’re telling me, Percy, is that something you have never seen is slightly less blue than something else you have never seen.

      …And there we have it. The art of ineffective description, fully explained in one minute of film.

      • I’ve never seen that show. That bit was funny, and now I have a handy name for the ineffective description problem.

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