Saturday, July 7, 2012

How Your Mind Cognizes Stuff

Consider the following sentences and get a picture in your mind of what is happening:

The man rowed the boat.

The girl put on her dance shoes.

The dog barked.

I just learned this while studying how the mind functions as determined by Buddhist scholars. What happens is you see or hear a word like "dog", and your mind goes and gets the image you have associated with the word dog and pops it into your conscious mind. The dog image will be different for everybody. This is true for everything that you cognize whether it is girl, boy, African-American, Asian, purple dragons, flighty faeries, and so on. It's automatic. There is no conscious thought involved.

This phenomenon is important for the writer when it comes to description. Recently I read a story with the MC driving a Porsche Cayenne. I know what a Porsche sports car looks like. I don't know what a Cayenne specifically looks like. So I grabbed the image of the porsche sports car. Then the author said that the MC was in an SUV... So I googled Porsche Cayenne and sure enough, it is an SUV.

And that is what the mind does when one reads. It reads a description and it grabs the closest image it has to that description and pops it into the consciousness. That is what one sees when one reads. To get the reader to see what you want them to see, you have to give them enough information to get the right image.

So going back to those three sentences at the beginning:

The man rowed the boat. I bet the image you pulled up looked something like this:


I was talking about this:




The girl put on her dance shoes. You probably saw shoes like this or something similar:



I was writing about latin style ballroom dance shoes:




The dog barked. You might have seen a bulldog:




Or a golden retriever


I doubt you saw a Chinese Crested Dog:




So if you have a person, place, or thing that you are describing in your fiction and it is not something that most people would be familiar with or not the norm, then you have to do a little more work to get your reader to see it. "Row" is not enough, I needed to say: the man sculled the racing shell. "Dance shoes" is not enough; I needed to say: the woman put on her latin style ballroom dance shoes. And dog is not enough; I needed to say: the Chinese crested dog barked.

And obviously that is the simple example to get my point across. If I was writing about a woman getting ready to go out ballroom dancing, then I could just write dance shoes. In context, the shoes would be ballroom shoes not ballet shoes.

Make sense?

1 comment:

  1. An excellent case in favor of adjectives!

    :)

    ReplyDelete