It is important to understand that different people have different brains. Genius, I know. But this point was driven home to me recently. I pay a lot of attention to what is going on in my head and the heads of those around me. I am the first to spot a hawk or a lizard. I can sense a motorcycle before I can hear it. But I am largely oblivious to many things.

To wit, my buddy Josh lives down the hall from us. I watched his dog over the weekend. My wife went over once and mentioned all the cute pictures on the walls, the giant fish tanks in the kitchen, and the fact that his kitchen tile is our bathroom tile. I had never noticed any of these things.

I would say that he has, conservatively, thirty frames on his walls with awesome pictures of his kids. I have been in his apartment many times. I never noticed them. I never noticed an entire wall of FISH. And I love fishing.

My wife was baffled that I didn’t catch any of this. But that’s not the kind of stuff I see. Both my parents majored in Biology. I am always seeing deer, coyotes, bobcats, eagles…stuff that other people miss. I can climb inside peoples’ heads pretty well. But I can look for a can of soup for an hour and never see that it is right in front of my face.

My wife can locate almost anything in our apartment by memory. It is eerie. The apartment is usually covered in toys, but she can tell me my keys are in the baby bed underneath a pink blanket. And she is usually right. Freakish. And yet she is always a second late seeing the hawk on the wire.

My daughter notices her own set of weird stuff, too. It’s got me thinking more about the role a reader plays in writing. I write something, and I am pretty sure of how it is in my mind, but it is ultimately digested by a mind entirely different than mine and therefore it is a different story.

I also think I need to include more physical detail. I have always thought that psychology and description are paramount. And they are. But so is everything else. I think the reason I lean so hard on character is because I, personally, do not picture things when I read. I don’t really have a clear picture of characters I read or write.

I don’t know how I am going to approach this, but I find it very interesting. All these people with their weird brains walking around interpreting the world. And we all do it differently. That makes life and reading pretty freaking amazing.

I’m looking at things a little different lately. And I’m finding a lot of things I lost or misplaced. Like the need to give a little more character description. Like the fact that some people don’t read the way that I do. I’ll keep looking at things differently. Who knows what I’ll find…whatever it is, it’s probably behind the milk.

Author: JD Mader

JD Mader is an award winning short story writer and novelist. 'Joe Café' and 'The Biker' are out now, as well as 'Please, no eyes'. and the collaborative 'Bad Book'. Mader has been writing for half his life and has no plans on stopping any time soon. Learn more about JD Mader at his blog and his Amazon author page.

30 thoughts on “Looking”

  1. I recall another post of yours where you talked about having too much descriptions and not allowing the reader to make their own pictures. I think it depends on taste – that of the writer and the reader -a and perhaps even the genre. It’s a balancing act we have to do every time we decide what to write. Personally I love being in your characters’ heads.

    1. Thanks Yvonne. Me too. I don’t plan on any drastic changes. Just a few tweaks. Or I’ll forget I even wrote this. 😉

  2. I just read a couple of chapters from a book a friend is writing. When he asked me to be brutal, I was. But the thing that stuck out the most was that I knew the people, places and things he was writing about. I could see them clearly in my mind because I was familiar on a personal level, but I knew others wouldn’t be. He understood and agreed. I try to have someone who doesn’t know me well read my first draft. It’s always an eye-opener for me.

    1. One of the things I like about The Biker is that anyone who lives in San Francisco will recognize many things. I still think the psychological landscape is more interesting though. But I’m weird. 🙂

    1. Thanks Jen. I guess it’s because I don’t see it. But I don’t see it when I read anyone’s stuff. I feel it, but I don’t see it.

  3. I used to be able to know where my hubby put everything until I was on chemo… then I lost it. Then he started losing things.

    I tell you there is a gateway near us that eats our things and then deposits garbage. I have no idea how that back room got filled with electrical equipment and a flying model airplane.

  4. As always, a thoughtful post, Dan. As a new writer, my lack of attention to physical details is not so much born out of creative decision to focus on character, as it distraction. I can see the scenes playing out in my head and I have such a picture in my noggin about the surroundings that I forget the reader can see it!

    Add what you want to add, Dan, but don’t take away any of your attention to your characters’ thoughts. Those are the details that drew me to your writing in the first place… I don’t care if the character is standing beside a white painted wrought iron baker’s rack.


  5. As a fantasy nerd/writer, I tend to enjoy detailed descriptions. That said, there was no point in Joe Cafe or The Biker in which I found myself thinking, “You know, what this needs is more detail of the physical environment.” You have a unique writing style that lends well to your stories. You put us into your characters’ minds as opposed to looking at everything from an outside perspective that would take those details into account. I’m not saying that I’m against more detail being added to your future works, and I certainly applaud your motivation to tweak your writing style, but I just hope that if you do, it is not at the expense of your unique method of storytelling.

    1. Agreed. I do without veering away from the characters to describe the sight of a rainbow for a page and a half.

      A Matt Stark description of a rainbow might read, “Yeah, I see it. You want a jelly bean or something?”

  6. Bah. Too much physical detail bogs down the story. 😉

    A bunch of people I know through teh intarwebz got together one time (sadly, I couldn’t make it). They all agreed to wear an ochre robe, because it’s the garment that a character in our favorite fantasy series wears. Everybody turned up in a different color robe — some yellow, some gold, some brown. I don’t think we ever did settle on what color ochre is.

  7. If you notice everything, it’s called hypervigilance and you get a label slapped on you. 😉

    Nice post, as usual.

  8. People will construct their own images from your personality description though, if they process information visually, which not all of us do. I’d say it’s an angle to be aware of but not to change the way you write. Beta readers will tell you if something is too bald and needs padding out a bit. Mine just said to me yesterday, ‘keep on writing the doughnuts and I’ll keep spotting the holes’. She has now been dubbed my Timbit-finder in Chief, but only the Canadians will get that one. 🙂

  9. I’m not a huge fan of too much detail. It curbs my imagination and doesn’t let me play around with character’s looks in my head. I remember a few times reading a book where the guy in my head was auburn haired whilst the book steadfastly reminded me that is was blond, and long, and clouded his eyes, blah blah blah. No fun. I’m more tuned to a person’s personality and motivation for their character. I like to know the ‘why’ instead of the ‘what they look like’. The why is so much more interesting, anyway.

  10. Nice post. Somehow I have managed to be a bit of both. I will be the first to see a groundhog in the field, the deer in the woods, and where my hubby left his car keys. Because he suffers from PTSD and TBI, I have to be the left, right, and center brain of the family. Sometimes it can be daunting, especially when I have lots of writing or farming issues on my mind. My friends wonder how I keep it all straight–and some days I wonder too…

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