How is your eyesight? How is your imaginative “vision”? Both well, I trust. This post looks at views, both literal and metaphorical, and how a writer can develop their “eye” to generate ideas, regardless of whether they write fiction, non-fiction or both.
The trigger for this post was a recent trip to London for a meeting. I had enough time after it to go to the Monument, which commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666. The artwork/sculpture work is amazing seen close up but it was the splendid view from the top that grabbed me.
I hadn’t realised you could climb to the top of the Monument (I had thought it was effectively a big statue!) but I did – all 311 steps up and 311 back down again! I have the certificate to prove it… oh and trust me, it is an excellent workout! It is also a relatively cheap one at a fiver a go. I have no idea of what gym membership costs or what a session would be, though I have no particular wish to find out, a view which I suspect may be shared by many of you! Admittedly though the Monument is not for those who don’t like spiral staircases or narrow ledges that you stand on at the top!
But I loved the views from the top of the Monument and felt the view well worth the effort of the climb. Cityscapes can have a beauty of their own.
There are plenty of lovely views in our own area, of course. And maybe we should also take a little time out to celebrate the wonderful workings of (a) the human eye and (b) the wonder of photography which brings the world to us in many ways from blog posts like this to major newspaper and magazine features to those fantastic wildlife documentaries.
When I studied biology at school, dissection was on the curriculum, but I could not bring myself to dissect a sheep’s eye. Why? The thought revolted me. There is something so intensely personal about an eye and I do believe that the eyes are the windows of the soul, so to cut them up just seemed wrong to me. However, learning about how the eye works did fascinate me. The eye is amazing in how it can take in so much and, working with the brain, interpret images so we see them correctly. It is also too easy to take it for granted.
The Writer’s Eye
But how about the writer’s eye? Is there such a thing? If so, can it be developed?
Yes, I think there is such as thing as the writer’s eye. It is that moment of realisation when, for fiction writers, you come across something that sparks off an idea for a story. With practice, you get better at spotting those moments earlier – you “see” that yes this could work for a story, a piece of flash fiction, or what have you. Yes, that initial idea will need an awful lot of work to get it to a final polished piece ready for submitting to a publication somewhere, but that spark is the trigger.
It works for non-fiction too. I knew I wanted to look at views for this post and share some pics (job done there!) but I realised that I could expand the idea of the eye and “looking” out to talk about looking at things with a writer’s hat on. Odd details you spot while out and about translate into strange little character quirks for your fictional hero or villain. Odd details you come across spark off thoughts of looking into something for future articles.
The key here is good “eyesight” and that comes from having a mind open enough to let your imagination run riot for a while and see what you get from that. I sometimes have brainstorming sessions for this very reason. I let the brain do its work and jot down whatever comes to me. Most of this I will never use directly. I think of it is clearing the clutter and what is left is the gold nugget I can do something with. I then brainstorm on these ideas to see in what direction they can take me.
I think it crucial for all writers to feed their brain by (a) reading widely and (b) strengthen their imaginative muscle by playing with ideas and following up the most interesting ones. The nice thing here is everybody’s idea of what is interesting will differ, depending on your tastes in fiction and non-fiction.
So yes, be observant about what is around us (and enjoy those lovely views!). Be observant about human nature. Be observant about what works in fiction and non-fiction. Be open to the thought that it is rarely the first idea that comes to you that is the best one you’ll come out with.
Writing competition judges often mention this when giving general pointers for potential competitors. If you thought of Idea A immediately you were given a theme, the chances are that 90%+ of other writers entering that competition will have thought of the same or similar. You need to come up with Idea B, C, or D and you can only do that by digging deep. Sometimes that can mean digging deep into your own experiences of life, other times it will be digging deep into your imagination and see what characters you could come up with who would justify having a story told about them.
Sometimes it can involve climbing over 300 stairs, gazing across at the London skyline, and start wondering about who, in the centuries before, had done exactly as I had. Who were they? What were their lives like? There again a historical look back at how the Monument was created and funded. Then a piece about the Great Fire but perhaps shown from the viewpoint of a fictional onlooker (but based on historical fact) could be another route to go. Hmm… I think there are some ideas there! Time to develop this inner vision further perhaps…
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.