Observation brings inspiration

How well do you observe the world? Do you really look at the people, places and events around you? Or is it all a blur in your memory when those things are no longer directly in front of you?

We are all so busy with our individual careers, families, worries … life in general… that we move automatically through 0ur daily routines without taking in the details. But as a writer it’s those details that matter and can make the difference between a good story and an exceptional story.

Some of the nicest comments I’ve received is that the readers felt as if they were in the places about which I’d written. I think that comes from having been a travel writer, as it was my job to take in the details and describe locations in a way that would make others want to go there. My articles had to lead the reader into a locale by making it real for them.

I would say that is one of my strong points. On the other hand, I’ve not always been so good at detailing the people in my articles or the characters in a story. That is where I work the hardest. So, over the years, I’ve learned to study people: their general appearance, habits, facial qualities or lack thereof; their way of walking and talking, and the way they interact with others. Sooner or later, some of those bits and pieces will find their way into a character in my fiction.

Even if you write fantasy and specialize in characters from other worlds, you must include the details if they are to be believable.

Observations bring our written pieces to life. If you aren’t already being overly observant, start practicing right now. Look out your window and take in all the details of the scene. Really look at it and study it. What’s in the scene? What stands out? Look at the colors; describe them. Are there hidden places there that you might want to investigate? Does the view give you a feeling of any kind; make you smile, make you sad?

The next time you are talking to someone, be it relative, friend or colleague, take a moment to study their face and the way they talk. Do they have any habits that are obvious, or quirks of personality? What does their skin look like; or their eyes, ears, hair, hands, clothing, posture? All of these things make up the total person and we know that when it comes to each individual, we can use the word “unique” correctly.

Sometimes it’s fun to sit in a crowded place and focus on someone to study. I find this is particularly easy and entertaining in airports, with its many kinds of interesting subjects rushing about or sitting across from me in the waiting areas. The same could be said for a busy restaurant, or a shopping mall, gatherings of every kind.

Inspiration through observation is everywhere. Take the time to look around you, and be inspired.

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Now available as an ebook on Amazon.com:

“A Spirit in the Heart” by Ell Wheeler is a light romance that takes readers into the north woods of Minnesota and the beauty of the lake country. When a man and a woman from two different cultures meet and try to understand each other, anything can happen; and does.

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Recognize your strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

Each of us has our strengths and weaknesses when we write. Do we recognize them? We should. But no matter what they are, they will contain much of what we are and what we know personally.

I feel that one of my strengths is in setting the background of a story so that the reader feels he or she is actually in that place. Having traveled quite a bit has given me a view of many locales and I can use the pictures in my mind to set a scene. Failing that, I can pull up an actual photo of a place that I have visited and describe it, or even a photo of a place I’ve never been and use that. After a while, my mind begins to create its own visions of the places I want in a story.

I do the same thing with characters. If I look closely at any of the characters in my stories, I will see bits and pieces of someone I know. Those little quirks of personality that I remember from someone I’ve met will always find their way into my fictional characters and make them more interesting, and real. That’s fun to do and it’s a good way to start. Once I’ve given a character a foundation of traits, it’s easier to imagine others. Sometimes they are good; sometimes bad.

In my novel, A Spirit in the Heart, I have a main character that is part American Indian. I spent a lot of time in Minnesota and I met people who share some of the same attitudes that I let that character express in the book, but I also wanted all his good attitudes to prevail.

Everyone we know has something about them that sets them apart. Maybe they are exceptionally frugal; or they’re a miserly sort; or giddy, or grumpy, or scared of everything, or annoyingly happy all the time….whatever. Those are the things that give a character substance and can make the reader love them or hate them.

And then there is plot. Alas, I have to admit that here is where I sometimes struggle. Okay, we all know that many romance novels don’t have much of a plot (no offense intended to those that do), but that’s the way I began with Caribbean Charade. I followed a formula of woman/man has crisis in love life; woman/man meets someone else that both attracts and annoys them; they start to get together; no they don’t; together again, off again. Well you get the picture. This goes on until finally they admit that they love each other and it’s happy ever after time. That was my first novel.

The second one became a bit more complex, and the third one I am working on is more complicated still. So I’m learning as I work and I believe I’m getting better as a writer.

My goal is to make everything from characterization to setting to plot come together in one dynamite story. For me, that can be a challenge. For others, it may be easy. But all of us have strengths and weaknesses, and we have to recognize them. We need to play to our strengths and strengthen our weaknesses. That’s how we become better writers.