How to Visualize What You Read for Better Retention and Comprehension

by Marko Martelli
How to Visualize What Your Read

Most of us fail to remember the essential ideas of books we read. Often enough, we’re embarrassed by our inability to recall the contents of a famous novel even if we’ve read it recently.

The solution to a quickly fading literature memory is to visualize while reading, which, if done correctly, improves your reading retention and comprehension quite dramatically. On top of that, turning narrative texts into mental movies makes reading more immersive and enjoyable.

Here in this article, I’d like to introduce you to the method of visualizing what you read.

As a general strategy, when you read a book, imagine yourself sitting in a movie theater. While reading a sentence, turn its content into a little movie scene playing out in front of you as the story unfolds.

Now, let’s zoom in and cover the fine details of visualizing what you read so that you can begin putting the method into practice at the end of this article.


Start Small, Visualizing 3-4 Sentences Only

Before you rush into your first test run, I want you to know that, at first, it’s going to be difficult (for the average person) to fluently visualize what you read.

For that reason, I suggest you start each reading session visualizing the first 3-4 sentences only.

As soon as you get more comfortable with the process of turning words into images, after a few days, increase the amount until you, eventually, visualize continually.

Naturally, the amount of energy you’ll need to spend depends on your general ability to create mental images, your level of reading, and the book you read. So, adjust your workload accordingly.


Read Descriptive Books

Visualizing books with detailed, vivid descriptions of landscapes, characters, and plenty of action are ideal, to begin with. Then, with lots of picture-words, that translate into images without much effort, you’ll progress quickly and exercise your imagination for more challenging books.

Epic books, brimming with fantastic imagery, are, for example, “Boy’s Life” by Richard McCammon, “The City of Dreaming Books” by Walter Mörs, or Frank Herbert’s famous “Dune.” (Amazon links)


Slow Down Your Reading

Quality goes over quantity, and spending a couple of minutes with each sentence will be more than worth your time. With patience and practice, speed and fluency will follow.

In the beginning, read a sentence (or part of a sentence), then stop to gradually transform its words into a movie scene. Next, you go through the following sentence, feeding its images into the previously imagined scenario. Continue with this process till you’ve turned a whole paragraph into a cohesive little movie.

Once you get more fluent, you can visualize on the fly and, perhaps, review your mental movies after each chapter.

Please don’t give in to your urge to rush through your book. The more time you put into it to familiarize yourself with all the characters, sceneries, understand all occurrences… the more lasting joy you’ll get out of your books.


Read Books You Enjoy Reading

Why read anything that bores you?

Take a novel you’d love to read. Ideally, go for a book you’ve read and enjoyed already. Think of how awesome it’d be to breathe life into the stories you already love. Immortalize those and carry them with you wherever you go.

With your favorite books, you probably won’t mind taking extra time painting vibrant details into landscapes and making characters as lifelike as real people.


Read More to Understand More

With each book you read, you’ll add new words to your vocabulary and grow your capability to comprehend complex sentences —as long you pick books that challenge you to a certain degree.

What follows naturally is that your word-to-image process takes less effort since you got to look up unknown words less frequently, and decrypting difficult passages will become easier.

With practice, you’ll find that even abstract words like ‘curiosity,’ ‘motivation,’ or ‘honesty’ betray some form of imagery you can integrate into your movies.


Use Images of Your Personal Memory
use mental imagery when reading

You won’t need to create your mental movies from scratch. If you struggle to come up with unique images, use your own personal memory archive. Think like, “Who does this person remind me of?”, “Have I been at a similar place yet?” or “Did something like this happen to me already?”

Should nothing come to your mind, just use, for example, your friends, acquaintances, or celebrities to cast the characters of your book. The same goes for the setting; think of places you visited, movies you’ve seen, and so on.


Enrich your Images with Sensory Perceptions

Once you feel comfortable visualizing mental movies, attempt to add sound. Imagine how the protagonist would speak when he/she speaks. Hear the noises the surroundings produce. Perhaps there’s a car honking in the background, or the wind is soughing.

Next, you could add smell and touch to add just another layer of depth to your movie scenes. The more time you take to draw out all these perceptions from your book, the more rewarding your experience.


Mentally Review the Story

Want to make quick progress and remember even more?
After each reading session, take a few minutes to mentally replay what you’ve read as if watching it on your TV. Fill in some more details, give your stories more color and vibrancy, or, simply, go with the flow.

By doing this, you’ll strengthen your ability to visualize clear images and easily remember the contents of books years after.


Review Your Books Before Falling Asleep

The best time to strengthen your visualization muscle right before you fall asleep. Your mind and body will be at ease, relaxed and ready to allow you access more visual imagery than during day time.

So, when you go to bed, just let go and think about the book you’re currently reading. All without tension, playfully, without hard focus.

You could revisit your favorite parts of the story, take a walk with the protagonist, or wander through the book’s landscapes.

With some practice, you may even turn your visualization expeditions into lucid dreams.



I’m curious: What book are you reading right now? Have you practiced visualizing its contents? Let me know in the comments below.

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