Friday, August 22, 2014

You See, But Do You Observe?

This is a summer rerun because I just received season 3 for my birthday and it reminded me how great this show is and how amazing the characters are. Oh, and the importance of deductions, of course.

 I would like to thank my sister for getting me hooked on the BBC's Sherlock series starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson. It all started when she gave me a 3-episode DVD for Christmas, recognizing that some things are just good for people, whether they know it or not.  The stories are tightly written, smart and compelling. The characters are well-developed and complex.  And the villain is...well, a madman.  Both soft and vicious at the same time, which makes you squirm whenever he enters a scene. A fitting nemesis to the self-proclaimed 'high-functioning sociopath.' There are only 9 episodes so far. Total.


What I also love about the series is Sherlock's deductions, which appear briefly in writing over a person or situation stating a fact that he has ascertained by keen observation.  A piece of lint, an impression in cloth, a subtle change in gait reveals clues that are so obvious to him that he remarks to Dr. Watson, "You see, but you do not observe."  Commonplace objects and conditions tell the story for him.  How amazing it would be to have his keen eye to help me to flesh out characters and scenes.  It has challenged me to sharpen my own powers of observation.

In fact, I've put it into practice.  Not really snooping, just watching.  Last week I covertly peeked into the shopping cart of a 50-something man in the grocery aisle and deduced from the copious amounts of single-serving frozen dinner entrees and boxed macaroni and cheese that he would be dining alone, and for quite a while. Possibly he was newly single judging from the men's body wash, men's shampoo, jug of mouthwash and new toothbrush.  People don't usually run out of everything all at once.  But it could happen, and it could be an interesting twist if his actions were misinterpreted.  Perhaps he just got released from prison, or his home burnt to the ground.  Maybe he was running from something...or someone. 

Of course, physical clues are only part of the story.  Intent and motivation are not easy to deduce or to show. The truth is, I 'see but don't observe' much of the time.  It takes practice to read a person's body language and the clues they unwittingly give. Some good news is that I think that just getting older has helped to make me more observant. Maybe because I've seen a lot. And I bet you have, too.
 Image result for deerstalker hats for sale
So be the 'hat' detective.  Slip on the deerstalker cap (interesting name) and use your powers of observation to really 'see' something you might otherwise have missed.  Look for the intent or motivation behind it, and share it with us, unless you're saving it for your next novel, of course.


Adelaide said...

I agree with you about the difference between seeing and observing. My husband and I usually go to a local cafe for a coffee in the afternoon. I've made a habit of studying the people around me, usually choosing one to write about. I try to write a full description and deduce from snippets of conversation, tone of voice, volume of voice, etc. what that person is like. The descriptions are useful as a writing practice and sometimes come in handy when I need a minor or major character in a story.


Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Adelaide, great idea! I'll bet you get some interesting characters that way.
BTW, I always wonder if people are doing that when I walk into Starbucks and those random people look up for a little too long...

Megan Sayer said...

I'm a huge fan of Sherlock too. Brilliant, brilliant show! Funnily enough, I'm also a huge fan of observation, also. And listening, not just to what people tell you, but how they tell you it, and why, and what they leave out. Not to judge, just to understand.
I don't know if you ever saw the English detective show "Jonathan Creek", but the protagonist there uses similar powers of observation. There was a particularly amusing episode where an amateur detective came in and started making all kinds of Sherlock-like observation statements, all based on true observations, all completely wrong assumptions. Very, very telling.
And the good news about that is I can use all my observations in writing anyway, and because they're MY characters I'm never wrong! It does make me think twice about judging actual people based on what I see though :)

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thanks, Megan. I will look for Jonathan Creek. We get an interesting assortment of BBC shows, but not always what we are looking for (Miranda - where are you?).
You are so right about making judgments on what you see. I think we've all been on the wrong end of that stick. Once a person has made a judgment, it's almost impossible to change their minds. At least our characters can't complain.