Assisting Inexperienced Writers To Be World Watchers
Learning to be observant is a valuable life skill.
When one has a writer’s notebook it is such an advantage if the owner possesses keen observational abilities. The writer begins to notice things in the world around them, more acutely. They consciously include sensory observations knowing they complement their writing efforts. The art of observation serves the writer well. A window is always available through which to capture a little magic.
To assist inexperienced student writers develop a greater awareness of the value of including such sensory observations, requires mindful action in the classroom:
Share text examples where the writer includes sensory details. Details that enable the reader to visualize the scene. Where writers employ show, don't tell, the reader is more likely to visualize the events and actions described. The words are decidedly reader friendly.
Share examples from your own notebook where you focus on what’s around you. Consider your 5 senses. Endeavour to show your curious learners how your writing presents a snapshot of the world around you.
'I notice as a father walks in the damp sand close to the shoreline. His young son follows closely behind. He stretches to place his feet within his father’s substantial footprints. This scene is a strong metaphor for father and son relationships. It also prompts me to think of the role of the teacher in the classroom –leading so that others may follow in their steps…' From my notebook
When we write about characters we need to explore the terrain in which that character exists. It is often helpful to think about this character in terms of the senses. To highlight this I share examples from my own writing to emphasize how as a writer, I try to incorporate such devices. Here are a few I made earlier:
Touch: 'When I shook my father’s hand, it felt as firm as the wood he had worked with all those years.'
Sound: 'I listened to my mother’s singing as she ironed and I played with my cars at her feet. The hissing of the iron provided an accompaniment to her questionable melodies. She sang joyfully, like the birds of the morning.'
Smell: 'On laundry day whenever my mother gave me a hug, I was enveloped in the unmistakable smell of Velvet soap. It was so pervasive, I had to rub my nose.'
Sight: 'When my aunt smoked, she drew the terrible smoke into her lungs, slowly titled her head back and exhaled towards the sky. She could have been a dragon caught in a daydream.'
Taste: 'When I kissed my father good night, I could taste the saltiness of sweat on his cheek from a hard day's work.'
We must also draw attention to such details used by mentor authors. This close noticing is an essential component of reading like a writer.
Using the Senses
When developing writers are starting out, they frequently encounter difficulty describing familiar scenes with sufficient clarity. They may not realize the words on the page don't provide sufficient information for the reader to form a clear image of the setting or the events taking place. They forget the reader may not be as familiar with the setting as they are. In such instances it is useful to request that the writer ‘develop’ the scene using the five senses to build the image the reader needs. That way they bring greater clarity to the situation.
The aim is to assist young writers to notice sensory details and develop the habit of including them when using their notebooks.
Ask questions about the use of sensory details when conferring:
Which senses did you use when you wrote this piece?
What other details could you add that involve the senses?
Example of text strong in sensory observation:
‘The red girl and I stood under the guava tree looking each other up and down. What a beautiful thing I saw standing before me. Her face was big and round and red, like a moon –a red moon. She had big, broad, flat feet and they were naked to the bare ground: her dress was dirty, the skirt and blouse tearing away from each other at one side; the red hair that I had seen standing up on her head was matted and tangled; her hands big and fat, and her fingernails held at least ten anthills of dirt under them. And on top of that, she had such an unbelievable, wonderful smell, as if she had never taken a bath in her whole life.'Source: 'Annie John' by Jamaica Kincaid
Assisting young writers to be more aware of the world around them as well as its capacity to influence the writing they do, is a worthy aim for the teaching taking place within your writing workshop.