I often wonder what drives some writers to write nonfiction while others are impelled to write novels, short stories, and other fiction. My own output leans extremely heavily toward nonfiction. I have written a few novels for adults, and my output for kids includes fiction as well as nonfiction, but of the over-100 books I have had published (if you’re curious, please visit www.cynthiamacgregor.com), the balance is heavily weighted in favor of nonfiction.
Maybe it’s because there are no movies playing in my mind.
I am given to understand that most writers see in their minds the fictional scenes they are writing.
I also understand that most book-readers see in their minds the scenes they are reading.
Maybe it’s because I’m an “audial” (I don’t believe that’s a dictionary word) person rather than a visual one. When I was in my 20s, an older friend explained something to me that de-mystified a lot about myself. He said that just as most people are right-handed but some, genetically, are lefties, most people are visually oriented but a much smaller number are audially oriented, and I fall into that group.
As I said, it explains a lot about me, including my impressive childhood vocabulary, which got me in trouble with my peers when I was in elementary school. My classmates derided me for being a show-off by using “big words.” Contrary to their assumptions I was not showing off and in fact begged my classmates to tell me which were the offending words so I could excise them from my vocabulary. I wanted to fit in, not be made fun of and shunned.
In my twenties, when my friend explained the audial/visual concept to me, I came to understand that, because my parents didn’t keep me away from visiting grown-ups and adult conversation, and because I was audially oriented, I not only was exposed to a lot of vocabulary beyond that of the typical child but absorbed these words into my own lexicon. I then began using them normally and naturally without any realization that they were beyond the verbal abilities of the typical five-year-old, eight-year-old, or whatever.
Being audial rather than visual, my friend also explained to me, I related more to what I heard than what I saw, recognized voices better than faces, absorbed information better when I heard it than when I read or otherwise saw it…. Well, the list went on, and I won’t go into it here. This is not to be a riff on my overall differences from the typical person, but rather a look into whether this audial orientation also plays into my choice of writing genre. I would think that being unable to see “movies in my mind” of what I am writing is probably a deterrent to writing fiction, even though it is only recently that I made that connecrion.
Sometimes I see fuzzy scenes in my head, somewhat like an impressionist painting, only much fuzzier than even that. They are never clear. I don’t see faces. I don’t even know what color hair the people have. I have had editors and cover artists ask me to describe a novel’s protagonist—and I never can. I have no idea what the person in question looks like.
Even when I describe a setting or a person in words, I still don’t—can’t, even when I try—visualize the setting or the person in my mind.
I still can write fiction. I can work out plots, devise interesting characters, mix in good plot complications, and come up with satisfying conclusions—but don’t look for lush imagery in my books. If you’ve read any of my adult fiction such as What Child Is This? or Home Again, Home Again, you’ll know what I mean. By no means do I fall flat on my face as a fictioneer. But there isn’t a huge amount of descriptive detail of physical appearance. It’s much more about emotions and such.
…Which may be, as I said at the outset, the reason I gravitate to nonfiction. How-to books, inspirational/motivational books, cookbooks, informative books, humor, and other forms of nonfic that I’ve written don’t usually call for precise and lavish description.
And that’s a good thing because the theatre in my mind is closed—in fact, never opened to begin with. I just don’t see movies in my mind.