Studying the World: And Becoming a Better Writer


Many writers have more ideas than time and never write as many stories as they have ideas for. But maybe you haven’t had a good story idea in a while. Maybe everything you think of has been done before or feels as if it’s been done before.


Maybe you’re not coming up with anything fresh because you’re not doing anything fresh. If you go to the same locales and do the same things with the same people, you’ll keep getting the same ideas. You need to shake up your mind and your spirit. You need to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch something new. You need to create new pathways for your thoughts. You need to let your imagination roam.


Examine the World Around You


There are places to go, things to do, that might have you looking at your world in such a way that it inspires you to create a new world. I’m going to suggest that just as your characters do, that you head into the unknown and explore there. Take in the surroundings and study for conflict or potential conflict, sources of conflict. Look for unusual alliances. Determine how people get along in these places.


Look for people’s responses—the physical and the spoken. Study their words, their faces, their postures. Investigate the ways they get their message and feelings across. Then imagine unseen or unheard methods of communication. How else might humans communicate, especially to hide that communication from others?


Look for details of a place—is it loud, quiet, echoing, reverent, wild, free, colorful, drab, sparse, cluttered? Is it closed in or is it open? What does it smell like? Do you get used to the odors right away? What sounds can you hear? Do some sounds go easily unnoticed? Could some sounds be in code, messages being sent in public without others catching on?


Is the air clear? Heavy with moisture? Dry? Hazy? Polluted? Heavy with mist? How do you feel in the space? How do others feel? Is it welcoming? Why or why not? Would strangers be welcome there?


Do people’s words, expressions, actions, and body language fit the emotion of the situation? Is the feel light-hearted and fun or heavy? Do the people gather in one spot? Do some individuals separate themselves from a group? Do any individuals stand out? Is there obvious conformity? How is non-conformity dealt with? Is individuality rewarded?


Focus your Attention on these Places and People


Close your eyes and use senses other than sight. Get a feel for a place. Absorb the elements that make it unique. Study the place or event, determine the major element or focal point, and then imagine what would happen if that major element was not there. What would happen if it had never been there? What would happen if it was suddenly or violently taken away? What would happen if everyone knew it would soon be gone?


Did you imagine going to these places on a sunny day? If so, consider going in the rain. Without gear. Or how about in the snow or heat? If you’re going to put characters into tough situations, understand what that means. Go deeper in your research.


Spend more than ten minutes at these places and engaged in these activities. Push beyond your comfort level. I’m not suggesting that you need to experience everything that your characters will. But I am suggesting you step outside your writing space on occasion and experience something other than what is familiar and comfortable for you.


Break your own patterns and allow yourself to consider other truths, other realities. Put yourself in a situation that makes you a stranger, an outsider, and use what you learn from the experience to create uncertainty and fear and doubt in your characters. Remove yourself from the comfortable and familiar and try to deal with the unfamiliar and strange. Maybe you only need to go exploring when plot ideas feel stale and familiar.