observation, part 2

On WritingA few years ago, I made what I thought was a significant change in my personal appearance. I shaved my goatee. I’d had the thing for more than a decade, and none of my coworkers had ever seen me without facial hair. The first day in the office after donning my new, shorn look, I didn’t expect people to freak out, but I did expect them to notice.

No one did. Not one person.

Early in the afternoon, I finally said something to someone I’d been working with for more than 4 years.

“I’m surprised no one has said anything about the fact that I shaved,” I said.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“My goatee,” I said. “I shaved it off.”

He eyed me suspiciously. “You used to have a goatee?”

Behold the powers of observation of the average person.

Most people don’t pay much attention to the things right under their own noses. If there’s a moment of crisis or extreme emotion, good or bad, we’re likely to have painfully specific details tattooed on our brains, but the stuff of everyday life is easy to overlook. That’s the stuff writers really need to pay attention to. If you want your exposition to pop, the world you create has to feel weather-worn. Your descriptions have to include details others might not think to mention.

You don’t have to go nuts, mind you. No reader needs an intricate account of the colors in your main character’s plaid PJ’s. I’m not talking about a data-dump style of story telling, but rather the inclusion of information that will give your story authenticity. Some of those details will be key to the plot, and some will be little more than window dressing that helps the reader construct a full picture in his/her head.

The starting point for all if it is you, the writer. You must pay attention. Really see the world around you. Embrace the stuff that others overlook. Marinade in theĀ minutia. All that little stuff can make a big difference in your fiction.


About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

4 Responses to observation, part 2

  1. I agree! In fact, that would make a good character description in a story – how the main character gets together with a ‘friend,’ who doesn’t notice the lack of goatee. A rather significant example of how this supposed friend is anything but.


  2. Agreed. And if it makes you feel any better, I change my hair color every few months. No one ever notices. ;0)


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