Writing Fiction and the Art of Observing


The Art Of Observing: How This Skill Helps Deepen Your Writing and Creativity

Through the ritual of observation, our senses detect the world around us in a multi-faceted manner, allowing us to open to the natural flow of creativity, and therefore allowing our subconscious to begin its work before tossing ideas back to our conscious mind. At this point, the ideas flow freely, and our writing deepens.

Observe: to see, to watch, to perceive, and to notice. A couple of examples: I see a red light and stop my car; green light, I go. My husband and I watch a film together, and often we perceive the context quite differently.

Imagine a scene. You’re a teacher and notice one of your students isn’t performing at her full potential. Her eyes are red, her shoulders drooped, and her hand clutches a Kleenex that’s seen better days. You are observing her physical characteristics. But just for a moment, imagine what she’s feeling, not the why of her predicament. Instead, consider how it feels to be sad.



Pull From Past Experiences—Writing With Courage

Think of a circumstance where you experienced sadness as a teenager. Can you remember the internal sensations that go hand-in-hand with the mental response of sorrow? Let’s change it up and say it’s a young boy in the class, not a girl. Think for a moment about how different their experience is. What are the similarities?

As writers, it is our job to dig deeper, go beyond our peripheral vision, and instead become the young girl or boy in the classroom; to feel their emotions. To hold our readers by the hand and allow them to become that character.

Open Your Senses—Stimulate Your Creativity

Our brain is constantly inundated with sharp images:

  • staring at images through a car window
  • walking along a street
  • strolling in a garden
  • standing in a kitchen searching for something we’ve misplaced

Roses bloom and die, their perfume lost in a wilted bloom while sunsets settle behind the horizon. The minutia of life drifts by, often without us noticing.

Imagine the shift in our creative process when we switch off our computers and walk around our neighborhoods with our minds open, capturing moments in real-time 3D images, using all of our senses while observing every nuance. Sounds easy, but the reality is that we live in a culture bombarded with stuff, and for many of us, time is money.

Writing Discipline

It takes discipline to slow down and experience the full measure of our senses. However, by doing so, we can capture the true essence of our characters and locations, and readers deserve more than a brief description of a person or place. How does the writer get past the character’s initial appearance and peel away the layers of their persona? How does the writer begin to put mannerisms and personality traits into words when we don’t know where and how to find them?

Nurture your creativity

Practice, Practice, Practice!

By practicing the art of observing and honing in on observational skills, our creative process deepens. Combining writing and your senses is the key to connecting to your inner storyteller. 

Try this exercise and think of it as an arty writing prompt—it’s about observing and creativity, not perfecting your drawing skills.

  • step away from your keyboard
  • pick up a pencil and paper
  • draw the shape of your hand
  • fill in the lines, freckles, age spots, fingernails
  • work in some tone and shading

What do your hands say about you? How would you describe your hands?

Consider hands: the apparent differences are male, female, age, and skin tone. But, when we look deeper, we can see that the hands of a doctor generally look much different from a builder’s hands. Likewise, the fingernails of a flamenco guitarist are dissimilar to those of a pianist.

In the world of fantasy, a character’s features are a writer’s dream come true. Having fun with the attributes of vampires, werewolves, fairies, or any other creature requires thought and research, delving deeply into one’s imagination and pulling out the gold.

Writing Fiction? Know Your Characters

To write fiction, we must know everything about our characters: diet, favorite color, background, religion, atheist, education, scent, height, weight, likes, and dislikes, the list is endless. If our readers want information verbatim, they can read a newspaper. As writers of fiction, it is our responsibility to grab our readers from the first paragraph and pull them into the world of our characters and their stories. In essence, you’re painting the canvas with a mood.

Get creative, try writing fiction by hand.

One Last Thing

Forget about the word count of your story. Listen to your characters, and they will guide you. Your characters will tell you when they’re nearing the end of their story, and chances are this will not be when your word count reaches 80,000 or more. Readers deserve more than word count. So ignore the social media forums and comments about word count and pushing to get multiple releases out every year. Instead, follow your heart (or your character’s demands) and write your story. Remember, we have editors (saints) to take away the pain of grammatical errors; our job is to write our best stories. Focus on your Creativity.

Remember: smell the roses, touch the fabric, and listen to the tone of a child’s cry. Oh, and always taste the chocolate!

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About Mandy Jackson-Beverly

Mandy Jackson-Beverly studied flute in Sydney, worked couture fashion in London, and has been a successful costume designer in LA, working with artists such as Madonna and David Bowie. She’s danced the tango with Robert Duvall, sewn buttons on coats with John Galliano, and discussed the art of sobriety with Alice Cooper and Russell Brand.

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