How does the power of observation affect our writing?

candle flame blown by airGod designed us with 5 senses—hear, taste, touch, see, and smell.

In the majority of manuscripts I read, the sense of sight is heavily relied upon. It’s understandable to describe what we see in our world, but there’s so much more we can use—not just the other 4 senses, but also human and animal behavior, and the behavior of nature.

Ethel Herr, in her book Introduction to Christian Writing, has this to say:

All writing consists of original observations of, and reactions to, life. The sharper our skills of observation and perception, the more we will have to say and the better we will be able to say it.

As writer’s we need to learn to be keen observers. Using our observations of life as we craft our story will help capture our readers and put them in the center of the action.

Here are some examples from books I’ve read that captured me.

From Lark (book 2 of the Brides of a Feather series by Julane Hiebert) that takes place in 1878 western Kansas describing a box lunch raffle.

The curtain opened amidst a whole lot of gigglin’, then a whooosh what coulda blowed out candles at a hundred yards escaped from the men. Ever’ last box had pink flowery paper with a big white bow. And ever’ lady behind the table had their arms crossed around their middles, grinnin’ like one of them big-mouthed bass fishes. Only this time it were the men-folks what got hooked—right in the pocket—and banker Watts was sweatin’ somethin’ fierce. (from the character John Wenghold)

I laughed out loud at the whoosh from the men, but Hiebert further cements this scene by comparing what’s happening to the men with nature and an activity we all understand: fishing.

From The Long Journey to Jake Palmer (contemporary fiction by James L. Rubart).

Darkness swept over Jake, then through him, into the cracked parts of his soul so deep he had never sensed them before. His gut tightened and he fought to pull in ragged breaths. Sweat broke out on his face and hands, his arms. But not below his waist. Not on his legs. Not on his feet.

Rubart takes darkness from the realm of sight to the realm of the spiritual and pulls us into Jake’s experience by showing us Jake’s bodily reaction. My gut gripped me because I could feel that darkness searching my soul.

From the Bible, the book of Revelation 21:19-21.

The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eight beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

Even describing what we see can be done in a way that is outside the normal realm, as the apostle John did in Revelation. He could have used color names to describe these foundations, but instead used precious gems. Emerald is more definitive than green. Each of these gems conjure a specific color in our minds.gemsObserving nature and human behavior and then linking them with our natural senses provide unique, precise, and yet very understandable description that catapults our readers into our stories.

Go back through your work in progress. Take a deeper look at your scenes and experiment. Is there a better way to show what’s happening by using different senses and behavior? What observations of life can you draw on to enhance your writing?

What sense do you tend to rely on when writing? Leave your comments below.

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