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November 10th, 2006, 04:41 PM
(I just posted this to my blog, but I thought it might be of interest to some here.)

Been meaning to spatter this digital ink across my screen for a few days now; you know what itís like, just getting to things that you mean to do. But, hey, maybe itís better for the time to reflect.

I had to vote earlier in the week, had to in the sense that Iím a resident of Virginia, and by all accounts Webb needed every vote he could get. Letís thank someone he got them. Anyway, thatís not the point; yes, there is a point here about writing. I had to vote and that means taking the Metro out to Clarendon and walking about six blocks to the community center. Out and back about twelve blocks, passing by a condo construction project each way.

Now, walking by the construction site, feeling good about being a dutiful citizen, I pondered on the sights and sounds and activities of the workers. A lot was going on, all over the place. I watched as I walked, them doing their things and me walking and watching.

Then I realized what I was doing. I was filing it away, the sights and sounds, what people were doing where and, maybe, why. I wasnít looking at it like John Q. I was looking at the construction site with a writerís eye, listening with a writerís ear, cataloguing every detail to use when or if needed in a story.

And then I realized that Iíd been doing the same thing a lot, perhaps most of my waking life these days. Experiencing life, to be sure, but also taking notes, as if Iíd hired a tiny scribe to sit in my brain and log all sensory input for later access, analysis and exploitation. A formation of gauzy cloud scuttling across the sky? Check. The slow degradation of the dead pigeon between the tracks of my train station? Duly noted. Those flirtatious glances from that young, cute blond? Log updated, Sir!*

Now I see, hear, smell, taste and feel in two distinct modes. As the one who experiences, and as the one who observes. Has anyone else found themselves changed like this upon becoming seriously dedicated to writing?

*Itís possible I may have imagined that part but the inner scribe doesnít care. Itís all experience.

November 10th, 2006, 06:28 PM
Absolutely, I think it comes with the territory of writing fantasy, or any fiction for that matter. I do exactly the same sort of thing - I'll look at a sunset, or a group of clouds and think about how I could describe it in my writing. The image is then logged away for future use.

The most recent example that I can recall is when I was getting the bus home the other weekend. I remember saying to my gf, "Whoa, check out the bus driver...he looks like Santa!" And he did - big, bushy white beard, white hair, ruddy face, the lot. But he also had tattoos on his arms and gold earrings. Immediately the thought struck me; whack the guy in some medieval attire, and he would look awesome. Like an innkeeper or something. Or pop him in some robes and he would look like some sort of maverick wizard.

A week later, I can recall this guy in vivid detail and there is a very good chance I'll write a character at some point that looks like him (minus the bus driver's shirt!).


November 10th, 2006, 07:29 PM
I call it developing the author's eye, though of course, it isn't just what you see. Your brain is now more alert to things that interest it; the world has become fodder. And it will now be very hard to turn off. The good news is that when you are going through really nasty stuff, you can joke about how it will make good story material.

November 11th, 2006, 04:19 AM
I call it tapping in to the memories. Often when I am trying to fashion a scene I find myself remembering, places, people and events.

How the village and the countryside round it I was brought up in looked as the seasons changed. How people spoke and more importantly how they moved when expressing themselves.

The feel of stone under your fingers in winter, the way the layer of frost makes them slick, then damp as the warmth from your fingers melt the ice.

I haven't ridden horseback since I was 14 years old, but when writing about characters riding, I found I was drawing on the memories, both good and bad from that time.

Emotions, too, all the anger, pain, love, happiness I have experienced has trickled into my characters. I suppose that is why, every now and then writing becomes painful. I put so much of me into the work it is hard not to get wrapped up in the worlds I create. That is also way I sometimes back off from writing, to write I must remember, draw from inside the images to base my work on, often that is not what I want to do.

November 11th, 2006, 05:04 PM
One of my favorite activities for developing as a writer is evesdropping on other peoples' conversations. I don't care what they're talking about; it's the way they talk that fascinates me. I love truckstops or the small neighborhood restaurants where locals meet. It really helps in developing authentic-sounding dialogue and dialect. How do they tell stories or retell conversations? How do people handle the he said, she said and then I said in the retelling?

And now, with people's cell phone conversations being so public there's a whole new source of evesdropping research.