Observational Techniques For Writers

observational techniques for writers

Researching for this topic lead me nowhere. Two paragraphs on the topic is all I could find so I’ll have to collect a few pieces of information from my experiences. That’s the bast way, after all.

Unless you are writing something that is absolutely avant-garde and your goal is to avoid the world and only write what can’t be seen in reality (I’m not talking about fantasy, it is merely a mirror of our world) – now that I think about it, it could be interesting – then you should possess a set of skills that will help you transfer the real world on pages.

Of course, every author creates this world a bit differently. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, personal hero, created Macondo from imagination, while Joyce took Dublin apart and made it anew to heal his nostalgia.

Both those extraordinary writers made up places that fit our world. Marquez used super-natural and symbolic all the time (think of a women who ascended to heaven from her own garden). But they used real people and real words that wold be spoken in those parts and times of the world.

But what to use when observing?

As a junior student of communication sciences I would always advise you to use the real techniques for scientific observations.

Observational Techniques


Don’t think Sherlock Holmes. Deduction is a technique used by scientists who observe and deduce – it means the one who observes should look at the big picture, the full composition, and take it apart, explaining every clue of it.

For example, you see an elderly man sitting on a bench, covering his face with hands. Deduce. Ask questions and provide answers. Account for everything – weather, his clothes, the non-verbal aspect, et cetera.


The opposite technique. Take a small part of a larger composition and follow it until it’s a full piece. Scientists use it daily and it only has a posh name, but we use it every day as well. Think how you look at individual spices before adding them to a meal – that’s basically it. So, the next time you see a coin on the street make up a larger composition around it.


Watch people as they sit, walk, talk. Use their conversations in your novel. Those might be pure and simple conversation, you’re allowed to have some as long as you’re not making a novel full of unimportant conversations. Think of Louis CK’s Horace and Pete and the reality of conversations they have. We could talk for a while about the way Louis writes his characters and makes them interesting, but it’s a story for another time.

Those are just a few techniques you can use. Be free, observe any way you like. Watch people and their mannerisms. When we come to character creation you’ll be glad of doing the observation.

Author: Mladen Reljanović

Mladen Reljanović is the founder and lead writer at Writer to Writers. He is the author of Oaktown stories, senior student of communication and a pianist.

8 thoughts on “Observational Techniques For Writers

  1. Lovely post! Observation is one of the most important tools to align inspiration, story and reality.
    In my day job, it’s also one of three pillars of information gathering techniques. (I’m a family physician, in case you were wondering.) I get my most valued clues from the nonverbal part of communication, posture, tension in muscles, voices.

What are your thoughts on this?