Writing makes you an observer

crocusI started writing in the last year I worked before taking a package and leaving an industry I’d been in for thirty years. Like big companies do they were reorganising which left me with little to occupy my time. So I had no excuse but to do what I’d always said I’d do which was to try and complete some of those stories I’d started but never finished. So I drafted that first book, then a second and a few years ago started this blog (also writing of course). What I didn’t realise at the time was how all this writing would change the way I look at the world. Or rather how it would make me an observer of the world around me, rather than being an on-looker as I pass through it. Or how much joy that unexpected side-effect would bring.

This new state of being an observer crept up on me. I think being a good writer (or trying to be a good writer) it is inevitable you will be become an observer, you just don’t realise it when the change is taking place. You have to be. If you want to describe something in a meaningful and novel way that will capture your readers it helps to see beyond the superficial. What does a tree really look like, each branch, each twig? What does it feel like to the touch, what does it smell like, how does it move, what does it sound like? How does it make you feel? What is the true colour of a leaf beyond the obvious green? I wonder how many pages I could fill trying to describe a single tree (maybe I’ll try), and then there are so many different varieties. I’m not saying you should spend hours touching, smelling and looking at a single tree, but hopefully you get the idea. And the same goes for manmade objects, any objects from the tallest of building to the humble wooden spoon. I may write science fiction, but to imagine those future worlds and describe them I have to understand the world I live in and observe it at all levels.

The same goes for people. Again I may write science fiction, but the most important part of any of those stories are the people. So I feel it’s no good just describing someone as young or old, a business man or a train driver. I have to paint a credible picture of what that means, at least in a way that’s relevant to my story, if I am to bring those characters to life for the reader. So how do they move, talk, see life, spend their time? Even if I don’t use all that information, it helps me form a personality that hopefully comes out in the writing. So I find myself observing people, on the street, in coffee shops. Especially in coffee shops, where you catch snippets of conversation that have you wondering about other lives.
barge1And how do people actually speak? We talk all the time so we assume we know and yet writing good dialogue is surprisingly difficult, perhaps because we don’t really listen to other people. We’re too busy thinking of what we’re going to say next. So visit those coffee houses and open your ears. There are mums talking to children, people having business meeting or just friends getting together.

So the added bonus of writing for me us that it has opened my eyes and ears to the world around me. I am now an observer of it, taking it all in and appreciating it all the more, which in turn I hope makes me a better writer.

As always comments (and observations) are welcome.

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

4 thoughts on “Writing makes you an observer”

  1. Very astute observations. I know that since I started writing fiction I spend more time people-watching with my mind constantly sifting possible descriptions, and listening to people talk while distilling what they say into dialogue, minus all the extra waffle that doesn’t make it to the page!

    1. Yes, people watching is always good. Part of it for me is seeing a very small part of someone else’s life, when you are unlikely to ever to see that person again. It sets me wondering.

      1. Quite. Slices of life are so intriguing, sometimes offering a starting point for who knows what as a writer. I know I wander away with that ‘I wonder what happens next’ thing going around inside my head.

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