The Art of Observation and Writing

People watching is a favorite activity of mine. No, I don’t sit at the bench at the mall and make snide remarks about people’s attire. I’m also not too interested in the exceptions to the rule—someone doing something so absurd that it falls well outside the range of normal human activity. (Although, I must admit that the guy who ended up in a fountain because he wasn’t looking as he was texting, was sort of funny.) No, I’m more interested in how normal people react in normal ways to normal situations. Observation is a key tool for any author because seeing how people act and react is an essential part of communicating thoughts and ideas to them. I can’t see my reader during the reading of one of my books, so observation helps inform me outside of that environment.

On one particular day, I was watching a young couple argue. The precise reason for the argument isn’t known to me and it’s immaterial anyway. The two of them argued for quite some time, each insisting the other wasn’t listening. Both went off in a huff. I’ve always hoped that they made up. The things that struck me was that the two people communicated differently. The wife’s communication was both vocal and emotional. However, it was her body language that said the most. The husband was stiff as a board and you could tell that he had built defenses against any encroaching information that might conflict with his preconceived ideas of how the communication should go. However, he did use his hands quite a lot and did make really good eye contact. His choice of words was the key ingredient in his communication. Two people, communicating two completely different ways, and neither of them hearing the other.

Books are like that sometimes. I get e-mail from my readers that makes it obvious that I didn’t choose the correct manner of communication. Yes, the information they’re requesting is most definitely in the book, but they didn’t see it because the information didn’t appear in a form that attracted attention. In some cases, the reader did see the information, but couldn’t understand it. In a worst case scenario, the reader saw the information, read it, thought it was understandable, and then didn’t apply it correctly. In many cases, I find that the reader really didn’t understand the information after all.

Another couple, on another day, showed me something else. Nuance is often part of communication. The precise formulation of interaction is important. In this case, the husband was following his wife shopping, but I could tell that his interest lay in his wife, not in what she was buying. She picked a particular item up, looked it over, and put it on the shelf. A little while later, they came back. She picked up the same item, looked at it intently, and then put it back on the self. I was surprised to see the man come back sometime later. He bought the item and almost passed me by while wearing a magnificent grin. When asked what was up, he explained that by observing his wife, he found the perfect gift for her—something she really wanted, but didn’t buy because it was too expensive.

The communication between author and reader is often nuanced in ways that defy simple explanations. Yet, when they’re understood, they seem absurdly simple. It’s the reason I employ beta readers, ask questions on this blog, and maintain statistics for my books. All of these observation techniques tell me how you’d like to receive information from me without my having to ask the question directly. I can provide you with the perfect presentation without saying anything at all.

How do you employ the art of observation? Do you find that it provides an effective means of communicating thoughts that might not receive proper treatment when spoken. Send your ideas on the topic to