by Charnell Peters
I’m a little creepy sometimes, and my friends and family are not afraid to tell me. Although I think it should be socially acceptable to stand very close to strangers and listen in on their conversations, it’s not. And as much as I wish the act of intently observing didn’t conjure the same images as “stalker” and “creep,” I know it does. That being said, all writers should be above average on the creepy scale, because we have to purposefully observe the world around us in order to create.
What have I observed this week? I noticed a young woman holding back tears pull her jacket above her nose to cover her face. I noticed a mother who was walking quickly, slow down to let her toddler catch up. I noticed a classmate organize desks before the professor came in. I observed four people in front of computers, so rushed that they sat down with backpacks on or stood up the entire time to print papers before class.
Are these huge things? No. I can’t build an entire plot or an entire character with just one of these observations, but I can use these observations to strengthen my writing and tell a truer story by applying them to the characters and the worlds I’m building.
Just like writers must read, not just as readers but as writers, we must also observe like writers, paying attention to the senses that are being employed, understanding our observations in a narrative arc, and honoring our observations like we must honor stories.
So go ahead, eavesdrop on that conversation. Look occupied in a store while watching a couple or a family interact. Take a good look at a cashier at work or the people in line behind you, the pharmacist or the server.
Actively store up the information you take in, and see how it affects your writing. There will probably be more details, more realistic dialogue, better setting, fitting gestures, and appropriate expressions. We observe these occurrences every day, and we can use them to our advantage. Our world is the biggest tool we have as writers, and keenly observing it is essential to creating works that others can recognize, relate to, and enjoy.
Charnell Peters is this year’s Art of Writing co-moderator.