Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Writer as Observer.

 To write well, an author must first observe her surroundings, absorbing and contemplating the world for what it is. Often, when we hear the word "observe," we think about things we see. However, we make observations using all our senses.

I liken this to a wine tasting (because I like wine tastings). You don't just taste the wine.  You see, swirl, smell, sip and savor it. Similarly, when observing, you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch your surroundings. Wine tasting's got it's 5 S's, and a writer's got his 5 senses.  Except that the old school 5 senses we learned about in kindergarten are a bit miss numbered.  I'll explain.

Humans have senses of balance, time, pain, etc.  Say a character in my novel experiences vertigo at a great hight.  What does that feel like to her?  How can I express with my writing the sense for someone who has never experienced that?

Including a sense of time is important in writing.  A well established linear timeline gives the reader a sense of the flow of the story and how long events take.  Also time plays a key roll in setting.  What time of year is it?  How much time past?  Is is fall now instead of summer?

Paying attention to these little details in the world can help writers fine tune their craft.  Writing isn't something that happens while I sit at a computer.  I am constantly taking in my surroundings, writing and rewriting.  As author Silas House put it in an article for the New York Times, when he's asked how many hours a day do you write. “'I write every waking minute,' I said. I meant, of course, that I am always writing in my head."

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