“Above all,” Roald Dahl advised writers, “watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.”
I grew up in Africa. When I was six, my daddy taught my brother and me to observe. Motion in a tree that was otherwise still could be a troop of monkeys. At dusk we trained our eyes to spot guinea fowl roosting in a tree—dinner for the next day. A wiggly motion in the grass near the path could be a poisonous snake. In the elephant grass higher than our heads alongside the path where we walked, blowing noises could signal the approach of a deadly Cape buffalo or a lion on the prowl. In Africa, being observant could be a matter of life or death.
Alexander McCall Smith writes fascinating books set Botswana, Africa, called The
No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. The heroine of these novels is Mma Ramotswe, Botswana’s first lady detective.
Here’s a quote about observing from his novel, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive: ‘“Mma Ramotswe…often saw thing which other people missed…That’s why I have found my calling she said to herself; …I am lucky enough to be able to notice things…(Her cousin had trained her) to keep her eyes open, to notice all the little things that were happening when one did something as simple as go for a walk in the bush. Here, along the path, would be the tracks of the animals that had passed that way; there were the tiny prints of a duiker, the skittish miniature buck with its delicate miniature hooves; there were the signs of the labours of the dung beetle, pushing its trophy, so much bigger than itself, leaving those marks in the sand. And there, look, somebody had come this way while he was eating and had thrown the maize cob down on the ground, not all that long ago because the ants had not yet come to take possession of it….The habit (of observing) had been engrained in Mma Ramotswe’s mind. At the age of ten, she had known by heart the number plate of virtually every car in Mochudi (her home town) and had been able to say who had driven in the direction of Gabarone (the capitol city) on any morning. “You have eyes like mine,” said the cousin. “And that is a good thing.”’
The American College Dictionary defines the word observe as:
1) to see, perceive, or notice.
2) to regard with attention so as to see or learn something.
3) to watch, view or note…for some special purpose.
4) To witness, implying paying strict attention
So, let’s be aware. Pay attention.We see a multitude of images a day.
Orson Scott Card said: “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” The trick, then, is to spot them—to be aware.
Observe, using all your five senses: seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling. Use your sixth sense, which is really a combination of some of the first five. A “seventh sense” could be called our spiritual sense—what God speaks into our souls and lays on our hearts to put into written form.
Recently on a gorgeous, sunny day in a beautiful, but lonely garden, I found myself thinking, “This would be the perfect setting for a tragedy.” The contrast of the setting and the dreadful event would have heightened the tension, I think.
A coppery-blonde friend of mine has eyes the color of south-sea waves above a white-sand floor. I now have a character named Rose who has those same aqua of eyes and burnished hair.
Lisa Wingate, an author of Christian novels, admonishes writers: While you’re walking the writer-road, be aware, be in the moment, don’t close your eyes even for an instant. Wherever you go in life, there are nuggets of story along the trail. Sometimes you’ll see them coming; sometimes you’ll stumble over them. Pause long enough to pick them up and examine them. Your writer’s mind can take it from there.
Where have you been? What have you heard or smelled or tasted? What have you seen? What has the Lord brought to your attention to commit to print?
Conclusion: Incidentally, God doesn’t just “see” you; He observes you.“The Lord…observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them” (Psalm 11:4 NIV). Nothing escapes His notice. A poet once said, “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.” In your joys and in your sorrows, He sees you and takes notice of your struggles and your accomplishments. Take joy in our Lord as He guides your writing life and give you ideas for articles, poems, devotionals, stories and novels. Just don’t miss them when He shows them to you.
***Write for FIVE minutes about something that you observed recently. A place you’ve been to; a conversation you overheard, a happenstance that caught your attention.