I’ve always paid attention to my environment, much more than people, which has at times made me seem disconnected I think. When I was a kid, I preferred to spend time outside, flat on my back, staring up at the sky. Sometimes I would lie down under a tree so I could watch the branches wave in the wind which made the tree seem alive, or, I would watch the birds bickering just to see if I could figure out their territorial disputes.
Even today, whether inside or out, I notice stuff. Which is the easiest way to say I try to see everything without seeming like I’m gawking.
For instance, if I go to someone’s home, I don’t walk around like a nosy neighbor, but, I do take in how they set their belongings about in their personal space. How pictures are hung, how furniture is arranged, what magazines they read, where it looks like they spend most of their time. Is it at that small wooden table in a corner nook, with the quaint wrought iron lamp stand for lighting, or, is it on the big, fluffy sofa in their cozy living room, with soft throws to cover their legs? Do they like a pristine, orderly environment, or a bit of chaotic clutter? In other words, what makes them tic? Who are they, aside from what I might already know about them? Is it different than what I expected?
And strange as it sounds, I also notice how a house smells. Are the owners burning scented candles , the kind that catch seasonal fragrances like pumpkin spice for fall, or Evergreen for winter? Or does the house simply smell of day to day living with nothing intended to mask the hint of morning coffee, last night’s supper, or laundry detergent mingling with the sharp scent of someone’s cologne? In those smaller spaces, such as a home, I feel that I’m being afforded an in depth peek of the people living there.
Being outdoors is a whole other experience. Sometimes it’s almost overwhelming. After almost seventeen years of marriage, I’m certain my husband finds me…, odd. I’m constantly prodding him to get up off the couch to come and look at something outside.
He might be encouraged to look up because, I haven’t changed since I was young. I’m still fascinated by the sky on certain mornings or evenings, when the clouds shift, a brief transformation of the celestial ceiling above our heads like a magnificent painting that lasts only seconds. As you can see below, I’ve tried to capture these on my little unprofessional camera, but the moments were so beautiful I couldn’t resist:
Or, he might be requested to come look at this! No idea what that strange bird is in the orange circle. We saw it once and never again. It was big – at least a foot high, but his beak was thick, not like the usual cranes. I could never find a picture, so he remains a mystery and unidentified (so far)
Or this! (don’t worry, we helped him/her get out and into a safe place)
Or, this! (heaven help me – and the poor garden spider – if I walked into it’s web getting the morning paper)
Which is to say…had I not been really paying attention, I probably would have missed out on these unusual instances of nature. Surely all of this observation of the “stuff” around me, all of these spaces and places I find myself paying attention to… help with the writing, right?
Yes. I think it does. How can you, as a writer be expected to describe an environment if you aren’t paying attention to details? How can you explain to a reader how the woods smell after it rains, or relay the feeling of walking barefoot across the grass on a hot summer day – if you haven’t noticed? How can you explain how it makes you feel to hear a certain song, and have it send you back in time. Just like the song by Clint Black:
Ain’t it funny how a melody can bring back a memory
Take you to another place in time
Completely change your state of mind
One of the “rules” of writing is to use all five senses. Sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste to bring your stories to life. Descriptions in stories are what always pull me in and what make me want to keep reading, (aside from plot!) I like to study the writers I admire, the ones who make me want to return to their words. I focus on what they do, how they do it. It begins with their ability to take what they’ve seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched, and relate it back to their story in a unique way.
It seems so easy, and I know it’s not. You know it’s not.
It’s one of the hardest things to get right, but I keep trying, don’t you?