By Mark W. Danielson
A couple of years ago I missed an opportunity while addressing a group of aspiring writers. As I discussed details of a factual White House conspiracy and how it became one of my books, an attractive blonde walked in, listened to a few of my words without ever taking a seat, asked if I honestly believed it, and stormed out when I replied, “yes”. My only regret was failing to ask the members of the audience to describe what they just observed. After all, good writers are equally good at observing, and had I taken the opportunity, it is likely the audience may have collectively remembered her hair flip and quick spin as she stormed out, nose high, with a look of disgust from insulting her favorite politician. In my mind, I still hear her fashion boots stomping down the hall as clear as the day it happened, and I remain amused by her polished act – one I suspect she perfected from years of having things her way. Then again, I realize my assumption is based solely on her few seconds in the room. Even so, I feel certain her behavior has echoed some characters’ behavior in my subsequent books.
Although detailed observing is an acquired skill, it becomes habitual if you practice writing what you see. Viewing the world this way leads to believable scenes and characters. Next time you find yourself in a public place, note how people speak, smell, gesture, and dress. Dialects, accents, clothing, and hair styles can help identify where people are from. Note their shoe heels to get a better picture of the person’s actual height. If you witness a crime, your power of observation can help identify the culprit. If you see a suspicious person, note their build, size, voice, gestures, tattoos, and other significant features. Test your abilities by observing someone for a second or two. In tense situations, that may be all the time you have. (Having encountered an armed robber up close, I assure you such memories never fade.) Now write a scene based upon what you observed. Doing so will give you an understanding of your personal power of observation and what you can do to improve.
The benefits of enhancing your observation skills are endless. Once they become a habit, your writing will become spontaneous and require fewer re-writes.