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Give Your Story Reader Room to Imagine

woman in theater seat

The Theater of the Mind 

Reader interaction with your story relies on imagination. As a writer, your work is to feed your reader’s imagination. 

You know how readers respond to film adaptations saying it’s not as good as the book? That’s because the visual medium of film supplies details that the reader imagined when they read the book. 

Author Jerry Jenkins calls this reader imagination filling in the blanks the Theater of the Mind. In order to create this theater of the mind give your reader hints rather than full, detailed descriptions. 

However much you see a character in your mind, give your reader room to form their image of your character.

Provide Hints 

When a reader forms a picture in their mind you’ve created an emotional connection. That connection keeps them turning pages. 

Stimulate your reader’s imagination with hints. Spoonfeeding every detail keeps your reader from personal involvement in your character. 

As a new writer, you may be tempted to supply every detail from your character background development. But, all that information is for you. Give your reader bits and pieces. Give them room to formulate their personal reader image.

How It Works

Paint broad brush strokes. Skip long, detailed descriptions and that character looking in the mirror scene. Give your reader touchpoints to start seeing your character in their mind.

In my current WIP, The Grain Merchant, Argolicus’ mother enters for the first time. 

A swirl of blue tunic and a long blonde braid rushed out the door.

Notice I don’t: 

  • Describe how tall or lean she is
  • Tell the color of her eyes
  • Reveal her age

The reader knows she is older because she is the protagonist’s mother. Each reader can form a picture of how tall she is or whether she is full-figured or slender. 

Give Your Reader an Imagination Push

Introduce each character with clues. Use several broad stroke hints to let the reader fill in the gaps. 

  • Choose up to three main physical details 
  • Refrain from long lists of details, they’ll get lost
  • Use other characters’ reactions to help readers form a picture
  • Reinforce your original details later in the story 

Your reader won’t notice they are providing their own details. And they won’t know they are forming an emotional attachment to your character. But, they will and they will love your character without knowing why.

Photo by Vladimir Fedotov on Unsplash

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