Sunday, September 14, 2014

Observe the Moment

Remember reading something and sitting back in amazement at how the author chose those perfect words to describe the scene? For example, this is how Charles Frazier described a character playing a fiddle in Cold Mountain:

It was a careening tune, loopy and syncopated, with little work for the left hand but the bow arm working as frantic as a man fighting off a deer fly from around his head.

That mental image is a delight. And I can't imagine those words coming to me if I was trying to describe something similar.

The World Through Your Eyes

The way you look at things is your strength. Not what you're looking at. Only you see the world the way you do. Pay attention to the little details that make the scene interesting. If you can't describe what you see in a captivating way, then it doesn't matter if you're looking at last winter's dusty grey wind-blown leaves on the patio outside your office window, or the red shoes clicking down the Champs-Élysées.

I was at the Corner Bakery in Draper one morning and wrote the following. It's an example of observing my surroundings and trying to put them down in my words, just an exercise that had nothing to do with the story I was currently writing.

There's a lady in one of the stuffed chairs in front of me. Laid back, reading and looking at pictures on her Kindle in the landscape position. Her fingers in a thoughtful position to her lips, holding a stylus that she never uses. Black windbreaker, matching stylish black cap, bright fuchsia shirt. Her blond hair in a faux wind-blown style sticking out from under the cap, narrow reading glasses, olive capri shorts. All the pieces in place, but the sum is less than the parts. In spite of all the effort it still feels like she's in a house dress with curlers—if anyone still wears curlers in their hair.

Changing your surroundings helps to break your routine. Go to a restaurant or coffee shop by yourself with your notebook. Pick somewhere they won't be rushing you out. Sit where you can observe people coming and going, other tables around you. Listen for unique words or phrases. Now capture some aspect of what you see. Your voice comes out by the things that capture your attention and the words you choose to describe them.

Even if you're at home right now, look around you. What are the details you observe that show your own character? Try to write a paragraph that captures the feel of where you are.

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