What is aphantasia?

Writing with aphantasia – different ways of experiencing the world


Aphantasia is the inability to create images voluntarily in your own mind. It was only this year I discovered there was a term for it! Since my childhood I’ve known that I can’t visualise people, even my partner and close friends/family, although I can describe them in words. Similarly places and objects: I have a sense of them more than an image in my mind’s eye. Apparently I am far from alone in this – Wiki lists a number of famous creative people who also have aphantasia, including several fantasy and science fiction writers and illustrators. I don’t know how they get round it but, as you can imagine, it can be a problem when trying to describe a character or a scene. 

My method is to think of the key qualities/characteristics I want my character to have: for example, Cristina is in her 50s and has dark wavy hair. I then search online until I find a photo of someone who looks like the person I want her to be. I do the same for environments. For example, I have a sense of the ‘summerhouse’ Cristina uses as her therapy room but I need to find an image that fits in order for me to describe it. All these images go into a scrap book or I make a collage so I can literally see the world I’m creating and refer to it as I work. 

If you’d like to read more see my article for Books By Women at Describing What You Can’t Imagine : Women Writers, Women’s Books (booksbywomen.org)

More info on aphantasia can be found here: 

Photo by Virginia Johnson on Unsplash

How do you develop fictional characters?

Using psychology to develop characters

It’s important to know your characters well, to understand what makes them tick and how they would behave in different situations. I like to develop rounded characters by using personality questionnaires to profile them. One tool I use is Myers Briggs which looks at ‘preferences’ on four different scales. Here is a brief explanation of the concepts behind it.

Click on each ‘concept’ in order to see a larger view that will open in a separate browser.

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Photo by Igor Cancarevic on Unsplash

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Photo by MagicPattern on Unsplash

Photo by Kelly Neil on Unsplash

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

Photo by De an Sun on Unsplash

Photo by Alex Alvarez on Unsplash

Using the four-letter codes you can create a profile. Cristina’s profile is ENFP. Davy’s is ESTJ. Cristina’s client, Leon, is INTP. 

If you are interested in reading more, full descriptions of the characteristics of people with these preferences can be found online. Just enter the four-letter codes in the search bar.

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