Writing Secrets: See the world through a writer’s eyes

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

Face this holiday season like a true writer – become a critical observer of human nature.

Record Auntie Pat‘s diatribe on the distressing nature of millennials, or her argument with Uncle Boet over who should get the drumstick. (Don’t get caught though.) If you can’t bring yourself to record the family, listen. But listen with an analytical ear.  Less for content than for words, phrases, the way people talk.

If this time of year means endless family dinners, use them. Watch the body language at the table. As humans, we are constantly computing. We take note of body language and facial expressions without being aware of doing so. We process them and come up with interpretations unconsciously.

We know Uncle Boet’s flirting with Auntie Mina’s new girlfriend, but we’re often not entirely sure how we came to that conclusion. We can see that Auntie Pat’s irritated by Uncle Boet … but how did we pick that up? She hasn’t said a word.

One of the skills you should develop as a writer is to take one step back. Force yourself to observe the non-verbal cues we normally take for granted. Try to find the words which will “show” them to a reader. You need to allow her to go through the process of interpreting for herself.

Holidays are great revealers of family dynamics. In your head, take things further. What could happen, say, if Uncle Boet reacted differently? What kind of trigger would it take for him to act out of character?

If you’re meeting new people, pick one of them, then develop them further, as a character. Decide what kind of person they are. Ask them questions (in your head, of course. You don’t want them to think you completely bonkers).

Ask things like: what are you most afraid of? What do you most look forward to? What was your most traumatic incident? And so on. If you have the time, use your notebook to write an internal monologue as if you were they. Slip inside the character you’ve created and allow them to write about their hopes and dreams.

See the world through a story-teller’s eyes. If you can do this, then every holiday, every trip you take, can feed your writing. You’re never really resting. You’re observing, collating, picking up material.

See yourself as a character and your life as a series of journeys. When you tell stories at the dinner table, tell them as a series of scenes, with dialogue. Collect anecdotes, scraps of dialogue and even phrases from the people around you. Scribble them down in your notebook.

Everything becomes grist to the mill eventually, and if you can see life through a story-teller’s eyes, every experience can become a good story.

Writers draw from life all the time, even the fiction writers. They pinch aspects of life and use them in entirely different ways, for different purposes.

So, as a writer, you’re never not writing. You’re watching, collecting, practising. It’s just a matter of the way you see life: not as a string of discrete events, but as a series of stories, which build and grow.

If you celebrate Christmas, I wish you a good one. Otherwise, I wish you a happy holiday and time to spend with those you love.

There’ll be no blog from me next week since All About Writing is closing for a week, but we’re readying ourselves for a brilliant new writing year. We hope you’ll allow us to scoop you up and sweep you along for the ride.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: Give yourself a flamboyant writerly festive season gift

Featured courses:

Online Creative Writing Course: Start 11 February

Johannesburg and Cape Town Creative Writing Course: Start 11 February

Power of Writing introductory writing course: Start 7 January

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