#StartWritingFiction: Observations

Today’s exercise in the Start Writing Fiction course I’m working on had to do with keeping a notebook full of observations. They provided a video of random British people doing random British things and using public transportation, set to elevator music. We were supposed to practice making observations about the “characters” in the video and write them down in our notebooks.

I didn’t find this video to be too terribly inspiring, so I (gasp!) did not follow directions. Instead of using the video, I went with random neighbors I have observed on my walks near the apartment. (The only form of exercise I am allowed to do since having surgery, boooo.) The following is what I came up with.

On my walks, I have seen:

1. A woman down the street who sits on the sofa in the open garage, texting, wearing workout clothes, while her Rottweiler runs on her treadmill for her. He barks fiercely at me as I walk by, but he’s leashed to the treadmill, and can’t chase me. Why doesn’t she take him for a real walk? Who is she texting? I wonder if she has tied a Fitbit to his collar, and is passing off his steps as her own.

2. An old man with a golden retriever who stands in the driveway and glares at me, ignores my hello, and turns his head to follow me with his hate-filled gaze as I walk by. Every time I see him, he is angry. Now, I cross the street before I reach his house. He comes and goes frequently in an old beat-up sedan. Where is he going? And why does he always bring the dog with him? I wonder if he’s going to buy cheap beer and cigarettes, leaving the dog waiting in the passenger seat, and then coming home to drink and ruminate about past wrongs.

3. A little house that I like, mostly hidden from the street by tall pine trees, with a garden dotted with outdoor, solar-powered lights, flowerbeds spilling over, and a patch of incongruent succulents, half of which are dead and gray. The owners hung out orange, twinkling lights on the first of October. In the one picture window that faces the street, I see a frame of curtains, the rounded back of an overstuffed sofa, and, once in a while, a cat. I’ve never seen the people who live there. Maybe it’s just the cat who lives there, and he tends the garden all by himself.

4. A mother pushes her son on a swing, slowly, over and over. He looks to be about six. He is wearing a bicycle helmet and kicking his feet listlessly out in front of him in time with the swing. Neither of them say anything. I wonder if he’s angry at her for making him wear a helmet on a swing. I wonder, is she overly-cautious in all areas of her life? Why?

The next section asked us to reflect on the notes we made and notice what kind of things we had a tendency to observe. It asked if we concentrated mostly on what we saw, while ignoring the other senses, and if we noticed emotions, facial expressions, clothing, or anything else.

Reflection: I think I mostly noticed what people/places looked like and their actions or facial expressions, but I also noticed sounds. I found myself wondering a lot about the narrative – why were they doing what they were doing, what had they done earlier that day, and where were they going next? I also paid attention to their environment and how they felt about it, or interacted with it – and wondered about their relationships.

All in all, a useful exercise. Now if only I could get out of the house and find some more interesting people to observe!

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