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Reading, the Real Theatre of the Mind

from Mia Marlowe...

I've heard it said that radio dramas were "theatre of the mind." Listening to radio stories wasn't a passive activity in the way movies or stage plays are. The story didn't merely wash over you. It was an active sort of entertainment. Listeners had to populate their mental stages with all the characters and action they could only hear. They had to build the settings and put the characters in motion in a world they alone could see.

Radio dramas were good mental exercise, but IMO, books are what really provide this experience. With only ink on a page, readers have to collaborate with the author to populate the story with flesh and blood characters, to build a whole world filled with sights, sounds, smells and textures.

But what happens when the world is so different from what a reader is used to? One of my intrepid Dutch readers had no trouble imagining Brandr, my hot, fire mage hero. Of course, the wonderful cover helps there.

But she was having difficulty imagining the longhouses in LORD OF FIRE AND ICE. I can't blame her. We have nothing like it now. You can watch House Hunters every day and never run across a floor plan like the one the vikings used. So my reader found this wonderful website with incredible pictures that illustrate the viking age. Here's the link: Lotofr.

The museum itself, which is organized around an archeological dig, is housed in a longhouse, a single story structure that was home to the head of the household and all their retainers in a communal sort of living. A longhouse was organized around a central meal fire. There were no chimneys. Smoke escaped from holes in the high-peaked roof. Deep benches, used for both seating and sleeping, lined the walls. Only a few rooms were actually walled off inside, the better to circulate heat. Life was as harsh as the winters and people needed to live in close community with each other in order to survive. 

I'm delighted that my reader was fascinated enough by the world of LORD OF FIRE AND ICE to do a little of her own research. The pictures she discovered help her form more accurate mental images of the viking age setting.

How about you? Have you ever read a book whose world so fascinated you, you had to delve into it deeper on your own?

Mia loves to connect with readers. Find her at , Twitter and Facebook


  1. Great post, Mia. And yes, ma'am, I've gone to the computer as often to research something in what I'm reading as I have in what I'm writing.

  2. When I read your title, I was thinking: Yes! I have little theater playing in my head as the characters decide to play out the scenes just for me! Then It's getting it on the paper, pronto, before I lose the scene so that others can "view" that same theater going on!

  3. Enjoyed your post and I love that cover! I love reading history books. Just finished Unbroken and loved it. Now I want to read more about WW2 POW camps. I realized I don't know a lot about WW2. So yes, I often read something and then want to read more about the subject.

  4. I loved your post, Mia and totally agree about reading. When I first saw longhouse I thought of the Lenni Lenape Indians we studied as kids in school. It was fascinating to realize that similar longhouses were used by the Vikings.

    I love how reading and research can spark us to connect the dots taking us places we haven't been before!

  5. Thanks, Carolyn. Like you, my reading sends me off to research. After reading MM Kaye's Far Pavilions, I had to know more about British India.

    Terry, I used to do some stage work, so I do "block" my scenes in my head as I write them.

    Amelia--WWII is a fascinating era. I look forward to the day when the romance market supports stories set then.

    CH--When the copy editor first took a look at LORD OF FIRE AND ICE, she too was thinking Native American longhouses and wanted me to change that word. I had to give her a quick tutorial.

  6. Oh, yes! Definitely. I went to Culloden and the Scottish Highlands after reading Outlander. Fascinating stuff, especially when it's somewhere real.

  7. I'm so jealous of your Scottish trip, Shana. I so want to go!


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