Look at the picture, cover it up, and answer some questions:
Is the light shining in the lighthouse?
How many colored spots on the side of the light house? What color are they?
Is the storm coming in or already past? Explain your conclusion.
How accurate were your answers? Did you see or observe?
Shane Parrish wrote an interesting article on the differences between “seeing” and “observing.” He began with an example in which Dr. Watson saw, and Sherlock Holmes observed.
Here’s a true example from my life: I am a passenger in a car and look out the window as we go. Even so, I may not be able to give accurate directions to return there again. However, if I’m driving, I’ve not only seen the route, but I’ve taken it into my thought process, I’ve experienced it physically multiple senses, and I’ve recognized landmarks along the way. I can give you clear directions. Why?
As a passenger, I see; as the driver, I observe.~ Kathleen Evenhouse
To make what I write realistic, I must first observe the little things that make up a whole, the details that make a situation scary or secure, and follow the best route to the final destination of my story. It is the things a writer observes and writes that gives the story shape, flavor, and drawing power.
A who-done-it writer (speaking for the detective) might include the detail: “I noticed that the city slicker always got hay fever whenever he got near horses.” The hay fever and the horses are perfectly obvious, but an astute reader must also observe the connection between the two. Once it is observed, it takes a mental process to draw a line between the noticing and connecting the bread crumbs on the trail the author left for you to take you to the final destination.
Of course, the mystery writer includes a plethora of clues. Observation and its correlating mental process also helps the clear-sighted reader to discard the extraneous details and focus on those that are important.
Are you a writer, a reader, a life-long learner? Find 3 minutes to read this article. Observe.