We stare. We watch. At times, we observe with casual reflection in the details of the image, or events before us.
But do we really take note of the world around us?
As a writer, is it adequate to, need I say, simply observe? I would say no, no it’s not. As writers, never aspiring, forever being, we need so much more than that. We need to roll around in it; stain our hands in the grand pastiche of wondrous color and smell and melody that is our world. That doesn’t, however, necessitate actual rolling or staining. Although I must say, that’s a worthy approach too (Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms and Henry Miller’s Quiet Days In Clichy are great examples of that type of literal relishing). We need not literally roll or stain ourselves in the detailed filth that comprises our detailed observation. But we do need to, at the least, take note of those details.
So how do we do this?
First, you start with your senses. Sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.
Second, take one at a time. For example, devote an hour to smell. In a public setting, with your sniffer at the ready, document every little odorous detail you encounter. Of most importance here is to take note of how that particular odor smells, what it smells like, what it reminds you of and how it makes you feel. It’s no use in writing about the pungent aroma of a Belgium Limburger if I don’t really how it smells, or why it makes my mouth water. And if I don’t know, then my character certainly can’t know. And if my character doesn’t know, then how is he going to react? Will he have a reaction? If the narrator includes a certain description of a certain aromatic cheese, how do I know as a reader that this narrator is reliable in their description? By knowing, I say!
Third, you implement. As an exercise, going through each sense individually is wonderfully useful. But it doesn’t have to be an exercise. That is, it need not be some strict, structured lesson. In fact, it probably shouldn’t. The best way to start, I would think, is to keep it in mind. Keep a notepad with you and if a particular sense is piqued by some evident curiosity, then you write it down, making sure to note the way in which it makes you feel, think, imagine.
So do me a favor. This week, take note. Be mindful of your senses and how you can implement those detailed reactions in your stories.
Alasdair and Shamus are still in Flagstaff. The narrative is slowing. Naturally, I think. The mania of Alasdair’s former life is diminishing. Soon, he’ll be part of the next great magic act!
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