Monday, February 16, 2015

The Eyes Have It!

I think it's always important for a writer to expand their horizons and experience something new once in a while. Writing can become stale when an author has nothing new to add to their well (or gold mine, if you prefer) of knowledge and experience. Since the adage "write what you know" has been amended to "write what interests you" (do we really need people who write about serial killers to "know" their subject that well??), it's enriched my writing experience to be interested in new things and, thanks to my innate sense of curiosity, go out and experience new things.

But what if funds, time, and other constraints prevent you from actually "going out" and doing so? How do you take the "same old, same old" and make it new? What if your characters are stuck in the same rut you are?

Sometimes all it takes to enrich one's well or mine is to simply take a fresh look at things that are familiar and try to see them from a different viewpoint. Since we all have to get into our characters' heads in order to write about them, try to imagine what different characters think when they see what we're looking at. Or tasting. Here's an example:

Green chile is a staple in New Mexico cooking. My characters who are native to the state take it for granted. But not everyone is a fan of spicy food or are even familiar with a freshly roasted green chile. So if I introduce a character who is not from the area and not used to eating Mexican food, I can't just have them dig into a bowl of green chile stew and NOT react in some way. Either they are going to hear angels singing as their taste buds dance in ecstasy while they bask in a celestial light... or they are going to feel all the demons of hell pouring hot lava down their throats as they simultaneously stab at the insides of their mouths with pitchforks made of goathead stickers. Depending on the cook's mood and the number of Scoville units registering on a particular chile pod, I've felt both (sometimes in the same bite!)

A vision of Heaven or...?

It's not necessary to book a tour through an exotic country or have a meal in a fancy gourmet restaurant in order to keep our writing fresh. All we really have to do is take the time, once in a while, to experience common everyday events and things through our characters. I sometimes try to drive a different route home from work or the supermarket, just to change my routine a little, stop at a different stop sign or light and notice what's on that particular street corner, as if I were new in town. Different characters will see different things. A long-time resident will notice a stranger in a familiar place; a newcomer wouldn't. But a newcomer would notice something that "old-timers" take for granted, details that help cement the story in a certain place and time.

Start looking at the world through "fresh eyes"--yours and your characters'--and discover what's new right in front of you. You don't even need an eye exam (well, maybe I do, but that's another topic for another day....


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