Noting the Details
Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 26, 2013
Observing a place with a writer’s eye is totally different than going as a tourist. In the latter capacity, you notice the bigger picture. For example, while on a movie studio tour, you might be hunting celebrities or be excited about seeing the costume department. But do you notice the trash bin labeled with a show’s name, the color of the tram that takes you around, or the signs on the soundstage walls?
As a writer, these are the sensory details that make a scene come alive. For Warrior Lord, where my heroes investigate the dire goings-on at a studio where guests go in and don’t come out, I watched an online video of an actual tour and searched my memory of studio visits I’ve made. These gave me the details I needed.
In a similar fashion, Warrior Rogue has a scene set in Hong Kong. How did I do this when I’d been there years ago? I kept travel diaries of everywhere I went, so first I combed through my journal for descriptions of places that might remain. Then I looked on the Internet to verify they still existed, like the tram ride going to Victoria Peak. I remembered Tiger Balm Gardens, and this became an important—albeit renamed and reimagined—scene in the story as well.
The wedding in Shear Murder takes place at an orchid park, but it’s based on Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando. On site, I strode through while taking notes of the plants, the layout, and any unusual observations. Did you know there’s a cemetery inside this oasis? It’s exciting what you’ll discover when you search for unusual and different details to spice your tale.
Next time you are out and about, try to notice these little details and think about how you’d describe them. It will enhance your experience and solidify your memory. And remember to include your five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch.
Writers, what scenes have you used based on personal observations?
Readers, what scenes have you read that stick in your mind due to the descriptive detail?