I used to think that writing is about language, and that perspective completely flipped once I begin screenwriting.
Writing is about many things, but language is not the most important one!
Let me clarify my statement. Language is a structured communication tool. A writer uses language for the same purpose it was invented, to communicate with the reader.
If writing is not about language, what is it then? Writing is about narrative, abstract, structure, conflict, voice, story, perspective, craft, and more. Language is the tool that precisely sharpens the writer’s collective thoughts into a communication form for the reader.
Wo is a writer? Anyone who writes to tell a narrative and professionally approaches the craft is a writer. It can be a comic, screenwriter, journalist, novelist, etc.
Generally, beginning writers go through the rollercoaster ride of creative anxiety pretty much every day. Unfortunately, this is something unavoidable at the beginning of their writing career, but it will eventually make them better writers.
“Writing, like playing the violin, you get better with practice,” — Aaron Sorkin
Many professional writers often scribble into a notebook their concepts and ideas before beginning their writing. They spend more time improving their craft to tell a good narrative.
Some writers naturally have a clear consciousness about what makes a good narrative, and the rest of them improve by practice. To improve this sensibility in yourself as a writer, you need to pay attention to what a professional writer observes. Let’s see what those are.
Imagine you are at a nightclub or the wedding of your ex-lover. Usually, most people will try to socialize and adapt to the environment. Most people will, but not most writers.
Writers don’t just watch people. They pay attention to people’s behavior, mannerism, subtext, look, tone, sound, and more. Most importantly, it all will happen simultaneously in a writer’s mind.
These kinds of observations don’t always bring inputs to their writing work, but they keep writers creatively sane and alive.
These collected data in a writer’s brain is more of a well-stored ingredient that they will use later, artistically.
An amateur writer observes what anyone can observe, but a professional writer observes beyond that. This creative spying is also part of the writing process. You cannot teach observation skills to a writer. It can only be achieved by self-training.
1. Observe the strangeness
Strangeness makes the audience curious. What seems out of place? Or what behavior of someone makes you look at them secretly? Writers observe these unusual details with inventive enthusiasm.
- Imagine a businessman in a suit eats a banana. Well, nothing strange about that, right? Now imagine that businessman holding the banana using both of his hands. Now you will curiously take a better look at him.
- Imagine you notice your boss having breakfast in his office room. Now imagine he is secretly eating a big fried-chicken bucket in his office for breakfast. What will you conclude about his action?
- Imagine you step into a crowded bar, and you see everyone is wearing the same hat, but you are not. What will be your reaction?
People, location or animals, everything around us has a strange plot into it and waiting to be observed.
When you notice someone behaving strangely next time, try to understand the intention, story, or meaning behind this particular person’s action.
The important thing you need to keep in mind that “strangeness is not equal to weird.” Observing strangeness in people requires empathy. Without empathy, these observations will lead to a prejudiced or biased outcome.
So remember! When you apply people’s real-life strange behavior into your work, you need to craft the story responsibly.
2. Observe the communication
We are inventing more ways to communicate. Still, the way we are communicating is becoming more complex.
From children to elderly, from rich to poor, everyone has their way of communication. Yes, of course, we have standard practices, but the communication will become a bit more dramatic when emotions reach their peak.
- If you see two people stare at each other for too long in public, you can tell that something’s going on between them. But how can you know whether they are having a joyful moment or the end of their relationship?
- Imagine you tell a joke to your date, and she claps. Here is the thing, if she claps faster, she did enjoy the joke. What if she claps very slowly at your face? What message does she want you to know?
A person can communicate the meaning using a particular gesture. A person’s gesture at any given time enhances the subtext of a conversation. And what writers care about in a conversation? The subtext.
- A single “sigh” can turn the conversation in a different direction.
- Someone is speaking in a husky voice in public when they talk about something sensitive.
We all make these gestures or signs in our everyday life. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally.
As a writer, you need to pay attention to these minor gestures and behaviors, involve yourself in the scene, and observe what happens in front of your eyes. The understanding of action and reaction is an important asset for a writer.
3. Observe the sound
All of the visual observation is powerful and impactful, and no question about that. But the reality is not just about the silent pictures.
Sometimes, when you observe something, it may seem nothing is going on. But a sound can change the entire meaning of that particular event you are encountering.
Imagine a couple is sitting on the couch and surfing through their smartphones. The scene seems a dull Sunday morning. Then you hear a doorbell ringing, and it rings for a long time. The couple doesn’t seem bothered by it.
This choice concludes that the couple doesn’t want to open the door for whoever is ringing the bell, or maybe they are in a fight, and their passive-aggressive competition of “who is in charge of the house?” game can also be a reason. Still, it’s an ordinary couple fight. Right?
Now, imagine, instead of a ringing doorbell, you hear a scream of a crying baby! And no one is reacting to care about it. The couple becomes bad parents instantly by a single shift in the sound. That’s the power of a sound.
Because if you pay attention to any incident with your eyes closed, you probably see things that your eyes did not show you.
- Can you recognize a background noise of a hospital?
- Can you recognize a background noise of a pre-school?
- Can you recognize a background noise of a subway?
Now imagine what happens if you swap the noises in between the locations. It will create a strange feeling, and what did I say about strangeness earlier?
Strangeness makes the audience curious!
The sound is an external element full of surprises. A sound can create an influential impact on the audience or reader the same way an image can.
I agree; writers are not sound designers. However, you are doing a job to make the reader feel in a certain way to narrate a story. So, it’s necessary to sharp your Daredevil ears.
Writing has a significant influence on its audience that other mediums don’t have. When a person is consuming information through a visual or an audible medium, they receive it from someone’s perspective or voice.
But when a person is consuming information through reading, the person reads in their voice. That’s one of the reasons why writing is very influential.
The reader takes the writer’s perspective and narrates in her or his voice, as you do it right now. Because it’s not my voice you hear inside your head, it’s your voice.
So, observe the atmosphere and people until this eventually becomes a habit. Your eyes and ears will automatically adapt to the method and pay attention to what others typically don’t see. As a writer, these are your investments. So invest!