It’s all about the detail. – In a Nutshell
A couple of blog posts back –I talked about the Killer Diller details as highlighted in The Complete Guide to Novel Writing edited by Meg Leder (Which, may I add, is an amazing book and must be read). Anyway the article in the book suggested that you keep a little note book where you can write down description and day to day detail that you see and then you can dip into this book when you are looking to say… describe a snow scene – I have a lot of weather description in my book as when I am driving I am probably the post observant.
I think that naturally as a writer you become more observant. Why? Because that is our skill – to recreate in fiction a reality. Writers walk around observing different aspects of people, their habits, their twitches and we take a twitch from one person, a dimple from the other and make our characters. So what is this blog post all about? Well my observation skills have been greatly improved since starting on my writing journey but it has taken me a while to really hone in on these observation skills and I am still learning the art of observation.
I thought that in this ‘In a Nutshell’ blogpost I would share a couple of tips in becoming more observant and using those observations in your writing.
Like I said above keep a journal or a note book in your bag always (not sure where you put this if you are a guy – unless you have a man bag or walk around looking intelligent holding a notebook!) – although a smart phone with notes is helpful too. Divide the notebook up into vocabulary, personal detail, feelings, nature, rooms and objects – or what you want detail about – you get the picture. If there is no division it’s going to be hard finding the section you are after for a particular scene.
Set yourself a goal of how many details you want to put in there everyday. My goal was three details. Truth be told I barely manage three a week though. I need to get into the habit of it.
Occasionally read through this book. It might provide inspiration for a new scene or an added description of someone’s characters.
How do you use this detail well? – You can use it as suggested above but I believe if you can really crystalise what you are trying to describe in a few words – and we all know – show don’t tell- use a combination. For example if you are talking about how cold it is. You could talk about the crunch under foot from the frozen leaves, the pavements sparkling with frost, the cobwebs on the traffic lights frozen like silly string, the fog thick and oppressive covering the town in a blanket. Those are just a couple of my observations from the weather earlier this year – It’s spring now- it would probably take me longer to think of them if I didn’t have a little book filled with such goodies. Using your book of description you will be able to describe things with fewer words and such clarity that your books will be simple to read. And books that are easy to read are good books! This is why you need the vocab section as well! Call it your own little thesaurus. For example there are several ways to say someone sat down on a sofa, they could slump, lower themselves, fall into– you get my meaning.
If you are like me when you are writing you just want to get the story out but when you are editing there is no harm in reading your description/observation book intermittently just for a bit of inspiration.
Another great way to hone in your description/observation skills is to take a notepad or journal and go somewhere random but I choose a garden or a park. Then describe what is closest to you. What can you see near your feet… in your immediate vicinity- say 1 metre around you. Describe it all- take five minutes to do this. Then increase the circle- describe everything within 6 metres – keep increasing your vision until you get to the end. Then describe what you can’t see behind the line of vision. Go crazy – be imaginative- remember this is not going in your book it’s just an exercise to help your observation/description skills.
Remember the other senses as well. It’s not all about sight! In some of the best books description can get all the senses going. What does the place smell like? Smell a flower and describe how its smells- describe what emotions and feelings this evokes in you. Your characters may someday use it. And not just flowers- horrible smells too- new tarmac being rolled out, petrol stations, butchers – where ever you go – have a smell. Smells evoke feelings and memories and must be used in books to really transport the reader to a different place. And remember textures… Its all about the texture! Touch some fabric and objects around you- what do they feel like- jot it down! And taste- give your taste buds an explosion put in foods that people don’t know about- make your readers want to Google them and see where they can try them! For me food is important in a book (I was a bit OTT in Goa Traffic – with food). I always think if your reader Googles something about your book – it’s a successful novel as you are really engaging them!
That is about all I can think of so far on description and observation. I hope it helps!
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