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Observational Writing

August 26, 2009
Zhuzha - Spy Cat
Observation is a key skill to any writing.

Observation is arguably the greatest tool for a writer of any genre. A well written piece allows the reader to see things in their mind as clearly as if they were seeing it with their own eyes. Good observational writing utilizes all of the senses in describing the event, character or item; transporting your reader easily into the world you are creating or describing. In some instances, the subject may be a household item, but with a quirky or detailed description, the reader may then look at it with new eyes, noticing new aspects and angles.

Comedians are keen people watchers and some of the best humour is observational. Many base their shows around describing an everyday object or event in minute and hilarious detail, choosing the absurdity of it to hinge their humour around. Writing is no different. It could be debated that all writing requires a high level of observation, however here are a few tips on approaching specifically an observational piece of writing.
Observational writing generally requires the writer to physically see an event or item. This allows the writer to take the time to study or observe over a specific amount of time, take notes and allow impressions to gestate. When choosing a topic to write about, begin with things which you have ready access to, rather than a foreign object. Family and the tangled relationships within them tend to be a favoured and universally accessible subject area and one which rarely dates.
Observational writing works best when written in the present tense – where the description and events unfold along with the readers progression of the story. This allows the reader to feel included within the text and carries the text along in a natural flow.
The key to good observational writing is the level of detail and the strength in which it is conveyed to the reader. Details allow the reader to discover the journey in an shared experiential way. However there is the danger in adding so many details which ultimately have no relevance to your subject and this only serves to clutter up your prose. Keep your details precise and relevant.

Especially with technical events or items; be as descriptive as possible. Precise words and terminology will convey a more exact meaning whilst giving it authenticity.

Utilize each of the senses when describing an event, character or object. Interpreting detail through sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell; although a commonplace technique in many writing styles is crucial to observational writing. Although its not necessary to include each sense, by using as many as is appropriate for your piece, you will create a vivid image in your reader’s mind.

Comparisons, similes and metaphors are an easy way to convey the characteristics of an item or event, making it more accessible to a wider range of readers. Comedic writers often compare one experience to completely unrelated other, culminating in very amusing outcomes for the reader.
None of these steps will work, of course, unless you observe everyday life and interactions and carefully file away your experiences. Observations first rule is to be interested, passionately intrigued by everything around you. A honed curiosity and well placed questioning will gift you more storylines and leads to articles than you can write.
One of the keys to observational writing is to then relate it back to the ‘Everymans” experience of it and have the technical ability to then convey it in a written manner.  A little while back there was some discussion on the tools one would choose to occupy ones “writers toolbox” and on the art of people watching for inspiration, which may serve as companion reading whilst you are pondering this article.

  • How would you rate your own observation skills when your ‘writers’ hat or ‘radar’ is on?
  • When does observational research boarder on spying?

Image by Marcus Vegas via Flickr

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Annie Evett has friends who stop mid sentence and ask if she is going to include whatever they were about to share in her next story or article. Can anyone spell PARANOID? Catch her growing amount of websites and blogs here
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  1. August 26, 2009 4:05 pm

    My thinking is, my writer’s hat is always on, and the need to be observational 100% of the time is in place….

  2. August 29, 2009 1:07 am

    The piece [ ] i recently tackled did not allow me the benefit of observation. but boy did I pretend that i was in that place.

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