Sensory Lists – Part 1 — Sight
We are visual beings. We rely on, and are often fooled by, our eyes. We are also bombarded by visual input on an hourly basis. A writer must see what is there and seek out comparisons and show the reader what’s going on in a memorable way. To do this well, practice making lists of notable sights during the day and jotting them down.
Using Sight to Enhance Your Creativity
The most important part of using sight to enhance your creativity is to paying attention and being specific as mentioned in the introduction to this series.
Because of the tremendous amount of visual stimuli we encounter each day, try narrowing your focus by looking at a specific aspect or theme of objects. Here are a few ways you can break these down:
- Color – Choose a color and make a list of all the objects you encounter that color.
- Shape – Select a shape, maybe circles or triangles or cubes, and create a list of them.
- Elements of Nature – Generate a list of all of the objects you find in the natural world. List flowers, trees, grass, birds, insects, rocks, or whatever else you encounter. If you don’t know the name of a particular flower, tree or bird just describe it, or see if you can identify it using a resource such as a nature guide or a nature identification app. If this seems too big, you can narrow the focus to just one element of nature – trees, birds, mammals, etc.
- Quality of Light – Pay attention to the light and shadow everywhere that you go. Note how bright or dim it seems. Focus on what you can see and can’t see and the contrast between them. For example, how the sky looks just before a bad storm starts. The sky takes on a green or sometimes yellowish cast. Include specific detail about your thought about light. How does the light make you feel? What does it remind you of?
- People – As you go through the day, take notes about every person you encounter, whether you know them or they’re strangers. This is good practice for character sketches if you are a fiction writer. Keep it short.
- Name – If you know it, or make one up
- Most Memorable Detail – Maybe it is a body part, unusual clothing, tattoo, or even a facial expression. Start with the most memorable and add a couple of additional details if you have time and room in your notebook.
- Story – Guess where they are going or what problem they are currently struggling with.
- Everyday Objects – There are items in our lives that have become so commonplace that we don’t even see them anymore. They are just background scenery in the movie of our lives. Select a common object or classification of objects and jot them down as you see them. Some examples include:
- Openings – Doors, windows, boxes, jars, drawers (any of these examples could be a category of its own)
- Paper – We are surrounded by it everywhere every single day.
- Food – Do I really need to provide details here?
- Chairs – Office chairs, dining room chairs, easy chairs
- Flooring – Carpet, tile, lush lawn, dirt, laminate flooring, etc.
- Words & Language – How many words do you encounter a day? Hundreds? Thousands? And they are everywhere on everything – packaging, billboards, labels, chyrons on TV, text messages, newspapers, books, etc.
- Places – This is great for road trips or commutes. Select a type of place such as churches, homes for sale, schools, restaurants, graveyards, etc. And note some quick details about it to help make it memorable.
These are just a few examples of how you can use sight to generate lists to spark your creativity.
Creating Sight Lists
The best way to create them is to keep a notebook with you at all times and a fast writing pen so you can take quick notes. But this is not always practical. Most smartphones these days have voice-to-text capabilities so if you can’t take notes (or it isn’t safe to do so i.e. driving) you can still capture the randomness and spontaneity of your vision. Here are a couple of other guidelines to follow:
- Set a Time Limit – Don’t stop taking notes too early, but don’t make it last for a week. Depending on where you are, anywhere from 1 to 4 hours is a good amount of time. But you can set other kinds of limits such as – Completing your walk around the block, your commute to work, or while waiting for your flight in an airport.
- Don’t Pick and Choose – Note everything—even the boring stuff.
- Be Specific – I know this is getting repetitive, but it is important to use specific language in your description. It is easy to get lazy and write the first word that pops into your head when describing a sight in particular, but don’t use the word “red” when the girl’s coat was “maroon.” Don’t write the word “dog” when the dog is actually a “huge husky with different colored eyes.” If you get into trouble here, just write down the best word for now and revise it later.
Create Visual Representations of Abstract Concepts
Creating lists of objects are not the only way to use sight to improve your creative thinking and writing. There are also interpretations of the things you see and remember. Creating visual representations of specific feelings such as pleasure, confusion, fear, and rage can help you improve your description skills.
Here are a couple of other ways to use these lists:
- Most Memorable Sights — Tap into your memory and explore what are the strongest and most memorable sights from your childhood? Adult life? School days? As a parent? It is always best to capture these as they happen, but if they are memorable enough to remember, they are memorable enough to capture on paper.
- Sights That Please You — What are the sights that bring a smile to your face or just make you happy thinking about them?
- Sights That Disturb You — What are the sights that disturb you or make you afraid?
- Sights That Disgust You — What sights bring a sour expression to your face with little effort? What are the sights that make you dry heave just thinking about them? Or vomit outright?
- Sights That Make You Angry — What sights bring your inner rage bubbling to the surface of your psyche? What makes you see red and raises your blood pressure until you feel like your head might burst?
Do It! — Creative Writing Exercises
This page is packed with possible writing exercises for you to try. Every bullet on this page is a writing exercise for you to try. Here are a few more “sight-related” exercises to explore.
- Create a list of things you can see from where you are sitting right now.
- Generate several of your own sight lists using objects, aspects of life, or preference lists based on the examples in the Using Sight to Enhance Creativity or Create Visual Representations of Abstract Concepts sections.
- Write about love “at first sight.”
- Write about a time when your sight tricked you.
- Write about double vision.
- If you lost your vision permanently tomorrow, what would you miss most?