The Space Between the Words

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It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. I beg to differ. As beautiful and wonderful as pictures can be, I often find that there is something missing. The space between the words where the imagination lives is missing in a simple picture. This is why the book is nearly always better than the movie. Consider this picture of a winter’s day:

winter scene

While beautiful and illustrative, all you get is what you see at face value. Now consider this poem about a winter’s day:

A Winter Day – Poem by Lucy Maud Montgomery

The air is silent save where stirs
A bugling breeze among the firs;
The virgin world in white array
Waits for the bridegroom kiss of day;
All heaven blooms rarely in the east
Where skies are silvery and fleeced,
And o’er the orient hills made glad
The morning comes in wonder clad;
Oh, ’tis a time most fit to see
How beautiful the dawn can be!

Wide, sparkling fields snow-vestured lie
Beneath a blue, unshadowed sky;
A glistening splendor crowns the woods
And bosky, whistling solitudes;
In hemlock glen and reedy mere
The tang of frost is sharp and clear;
Life hath a jollity and zest,
A poignancy made manifest;
Laughter and courage have their way
At noontide of a winter’s day.

Faint music rings in world and dell,
The tinkling of a distant bell,
Where homestead lights with friendly glow
Glimmer across the drifted snow;
Beyond a valley dim and far
Lit by an occidental star,
Tall pines the marge of day beset
Like many a slender minaret,
Whence priest-like winds on crystal air
Summon the reverent world to prayer.

Pictures painted in my mind

The pictures painted in my mind as I read poetry and prose conjure up more than a single picture. I see a movie of dancing, flowing art, weaving through my imagination. I can view in my head what happened before and what is coming after by not just seeing the words, but by unconsciously filling in the spaces between the words with my own soul.

Decoding Harry Potter

Think of how many frames it takes to make a movie. The movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was 2 hours and 39 minutes long. If I estimate and average of 30 fps (frames per second) it took 286,200 frames to convey the essence of that l book to the silver screen. The book itself was only about 77,500 words. This means instead of the cliché 1000 words for a picture, there were actually 3.7 pictures for every word of Harry Potter. Why is this?

Reading Changes the Brain

The human mind can fill in the spaces between the words better thanImage of Brain any camera. When you read you are transported in your brain just as if you were living the experience of the words and the spaces between them. In her article, “Does reading actually change the brain?”, Carol Clarke discusses research conducted by neuroscientist Gregory Berns at Emory university.

“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” Berns says. “We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

Does this mean we should just forgo pictures completely in favor of prose? Of course not. Pictures are, and will remain, the most expedient way to convey a large chunk of information or emotion to the masses. However what we gain in expediency we often lose in personalization. We lose the ability to reach into the spaces between the words and find new corners of ourselves.

So, is a picture worth a thousand words? To me… not even close. I’ll take a thousand words every time.


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