When is the last time as a writer you sat back and just watched the world around you? When have you last taken note of the birds that visit your backyard, the look of your neighbour’s curtains, or how a cat stalks after a bird? Observation is an important part of being an author, how are you cultivating those skills?
The other day, hubby and I were listening to some book (the name currently escapes me) and simultaneously said “wow, that was a great description!” It was so spot on, and funny. I wish I could remember exactly what it was, but the description was so vivid, without dragging on, you could tell how well the author knew his subject.
As I stop and think about how accurate his description was, I realize that it was based on his ability to really see what was there. The question for me then arises, how does a writer learn to see what is really there?
I was out doing a spot of gardening this morning, thinking about this post. I got to thinking that if I were to write about gardening I could talk about the chill of the earth beneath my knee as I knelt over the garden. The spindly white roots of the garlic and chives as I moved them into the white half barrel laden with compost and rich black earth. The red-brown of the earthworms as they are just starting to wake up from a cold winters sleep.
I would have to note the smell of the compost, slightly rotten and yet full of the odour of composting manure and straw. The sounds of the neighbours short-legged dachshund dog yipping loudly whenever I move, and my manure-making rabbits rattling their water bowls as they finish up their breakfast.
Holding on to these observations would help me if I were to write a factual article about transplanting chives, as well as add rich detail to a story about a gardener. Can you see how adding those details would heighten the truth of what you have to say?
Look for the Unusual
Sometimes we need to practice, to stop and really take note of the world around us. To do so, sometimes we need to look for the unusual. Like how would a caterpillar see the world, or imagine life if you were as big as a brontosaurus. You could take the vantage point of a child, a deaf person, or a super hero. Let your imagination take you as you look around. That beetle that you see, maybe it has an invisible rider seeing the world in a dizzying blur.
Go for the normal
Head out the mall and people watch. Observe their interactions, clothing styles, and manner of walking. Spot store clerks interacting with customers, notice random acts of kindness or unnoticed cruelty. Make note of other watchers, browsers, and the child all alone. See the elderly couple holding hands, the young pair whip arms wrapped around, can you see the growth in love? Watch long, look deep, make notes. Then go to the playground, the beach, the coffee shop and the gym. Do it again, and then again. Add details, colour and smells. Remember everything, add it to what you write, let the details bring life to your words.