The Power of Observation: Transform Your Writing

 In Writing

We’re all familiar with this scenario:


Driving home like we’re on autopilot. Red light. Stop. The grocery store, gas station, McDonald’s, dry cleaners we always pass, barely notice it. Turn onto our streets, pass the neighbors, drive into our driveways, park, get out, go inside.


What did we see? How much did we observe? What was missed? Most likely, a lot!


Make your novel come alive by including details that may seem ordinary, but add richness to the story.


For example: A crack in the wall with the brown stain conveys age, disrepair, and perhaps even a leak.


An abandoned home with boxes (what is in them?), a mattress, a couch (describe), a toilet seat, and boots (what kind) give readers an interesting picture.


The window that never quite seals shut would make a room drafty, right?! So maybe someone would stuff newspaper or a towel or plastic bags from the grocery store in that space to block the cold. This imagery improves the story.


Here’s a challenge:


  1. Grab paper, pen, and a clipboard if you have one. Go into your kitchen, bedroom, family room—any room you spend a lot of time in. Look around and pay attention to things you hadn’t seen before. Look at the floor, the ceiling, the walls. Check under, on, in the furniture. Examine the shelves. Open cupboards.
  2. Write down everything that you didn’t realize was there. The crack in the tile, the earring in the sofa, the cobwebs in the corners of the room, the scuff mark on the baseboard, the rust in the sink.
  3. You can build entire stories around that lost earring, the crack in the tile.


How can you use these observations to improve your writing?


Imagine this scene: A beach.


Now pay attention to details:


Is it all sand? What color sand? Is it coarse sand or fine sand? Are there seashells? Rocks? A boulder? A dead fish? Seaweed? Driftwood? Seagulls? What color is the water? What sounds do you hear? Smells? How does the sand feel under your feet? Do you see any footsteps (including those of an animal)?


How does the beach change during seasons? Weather? How would you utilize this information to improve your writing?


Additional suggestions:


Take photos. You can always refer back to them to help you remember details for scenes in your novel.


During revision, look for opportunities to add details. DO NOT, however, overwhelm the reader. Too many details drag down the story. Choose wisely and know WHY you’re putting them in. If they don’t have a purpose, it’s not necessary.


Good luck!




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