Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | February 6, 2019

Experience, Observation, and Perspective

 

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, trees and snow at sunrise

Winter Sunrise

 

Experience, Observation, And Perspective

Experience is universal. Each instant that we exist, we experience something. Some experiences are common to all—we breathe, we eat, we drink, we sleep, we feel—while other experiences are unique to the individual. We need both shared experiences and unique experiences: our shared experiences to allow us to relate to one another, and our distinct experiences make life interesting.

Like experience, observation—noticing or perceiving what we experience—is universal. We pay attention to how we feel physically, to our moods and emotions, to what’s happening in our lives and around us—to other people, to our surroundings, to events near and far, to the weather … and much more. In fact, it’s the observation of what we’re experiencing that gives the experience relevance and meaning.

The fascinating thing about observation is its individuality. When two of us experience the same event—a beautiful sunrise, for example—we do not observe exactly the same details about it. Our observations are colored by who we are. One person may concentrate on the colors in the clouds; another may focus on the quiet peacefulness of the moment.

Observation is a vital skill for writers, for everything we write flows from the sum total of our experiences and observations. The more we experience and observe, the more sources feed that flow of creativity.

Simple observation, though, is not enough. A camera can do that much. True observation involves thought, for to truly observe we must evaluate what is observed and integrate the new observation/information into all that has been previously experienced and observed—and that’s the process which gives us perspective.

Perspective refers to how we look at things, how we understand things and events in relation to the totality of our experiences, knowledge, and observations. Perspective is not static. With new experiences, new information, and new observations, perspective changes.

 

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, fog and trees, sun through fog

Morning Fog at 31 Degrees

 

Using Experience and Observation to Gain PerspectiveAnd Ideas

Non-writers often ask writers where they get their ideas. Writers cringe at that question because their answer rarely satisfies non-writers. The truth is, ideas and inspiration can come from anywhere—which is why writers read and learn and experience and observe all they can.

The idea for today’s topic came to me because the weather of the past few weeks kept pinging my observational radar. Most of the United States has experienced days of extreme cold interspersed with much warmer weather. (As I write this, it’s 48 degrees after two days in the mid-60s when I briefly opened a window to let in fresh air.) Although both these cold temperatures and warm temperatures broke records in many places, swings in temperature aren’t unusual during North American winters. Yet each year with the first bout of much-lower-than-normal temperatures, people grumble complain and rush out to buy space heaters and fluffy coats and extra socks and gloves. (You’d think we’d be used to this and prepare ahead of time, right? Perhaps there’s something in human nature that resists doing so.)

When it warmed up to the high 30s after the first cold snap, I walked out to get the mail wearing flip-flops and a pullover sweater but no coat. With the sun shining brightly and no wind, I didn’t feel cold. (In December, at the same temperature, I wore my winter coat and gloves and put up the hood.)

I mentioned to my husband how warm it felt and he agreed, saying that 38 degrees feels “downright balmy” after highs in the teens.

His comment got me thinking. I’d always assumed that our bodies adjusted to the cold as winter progressed, but now I think our changing perception of cold/warm may be more a matter of perspective. The cold snaps this year didn’t last long enough for our bodies to adjust physically. Instead of acclimatization making an average cold temperature feel warmer, our perception of what is cold has changed. Experiencing the contrast between normal cold and extreme cold has changed our perspective.

So, odd as it may seem, my thoughts about the effects of the weather led to the idea for this blog post.

 

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, cat footprints on snowy steps

Cat Footprints in the Snow

 

A Reminder For Writers Creating Characters

Each time we create a well-rounded, major character, we establish both the character’s identity—the character’s personality, temperament, interests, skills, ethos, et cetera—and the character’s history—past experiences. This is the character’s starting point but not, for most main characters, the ending point. A change in the character is what readers expect. (If your character does not change, make sure you’ve given the reader a valid, compelling reason why not.) During the course of the story, the character’s experiences and observations should change the character, or at least the character’s perspective.

 

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, sunset clouds, snow beneath winter sunset

Winter Sunset

 

What experiences or observations have given you ideas or inspiration?

 


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