Monday, December 26, 2011

Writing - Lesson 5 of 6: Observation

The following is in regards to a game played by German children that B. knew of who would be required by their teacher to "repeat snatches of their activities, things they have done today yesterday and a few days ago. It serves to purpose of developing the pupil's memory, analyzing his actions and sharpening his sense of observation." (92)

"It [the game] helps a student of the theater to notice everything unusual and out of the ordinary in every-day life.  It builds his memory, his storage memory, with all visible manifestations of the human spirit.  It makes him sensitive to sincerity and to make-believe.  It develops his sensory and muscular memory, and facilitates his adjustment to any business he may be required to do in a part.  It opens his eyes to the full extent in appreciation of different personalities and values in people and works of art.  And lastly, Madame, it enriches his inner life by full and extensive consumption of everything in outward life." (97-98)

Finally, "The Creature" as he calls the actress who comes to him tells of the exercise that she created based much on what the German children did with their teacher.  "I decided that for three months, from twelve to one every day, where ever I happened to be and whatever I might be doing, I would observe everything and everybody around me.  And from one to two, during my lunch time, I would recall the observations of the previous day.  If I happened to be alone I would re-enact, like the German children, my own past actions... I became as rich in experiences as Croesus n gold.  At first I tried to jot them down, now I don't' even need to do that.  Everything registers automatically somewhere in my brain, and through the practice of recalling and re-enacting I'm ten times as alert as I was.  And life is so much more wonderful.  You don't know how rich and wonderful it is." (101)

Here's the curious thing about observation.  We all think we do it.  To an extent we all do I think, but to do the kind of observation with a purpose and a concentration like that which is discussed in the above passages and in this chapter of the book is to go above and beyond merely taking in what's around us.  It goes to the level of taking everything in, even the things we would normally filter out of our conscious mind.  Think about it.  When you're driving seems a good example to me.  You look around, certainly, you watch where you're going you look for pedestrians you try and watch for all the lights, you make split second decisions... it's probably one of the few points where we're actively observing as much as we can.  It's when we lost concentration, allow our minds to filter out too much information that accidents happen.  That's when we almost hit the pedestrian or when we run the red light or rear end someone whose break lights we shoudl have seen.

This kind of observation can only be helpful for writers as much as for actors.  We write the human experience, but how can we write it when we're closed off to half of it?  When we can't even be bothered to truly pay attention and observe the people around us.  If we've by this point mastered the art of Concentration then shouldn't we also have mastered the art of observation?  Unfortunately the two do tend to be learned rather exclusively.  Instead of learning to concentrate and observe we learn to do one or the other.  Proper observation though deserves a great deal of concentration.  Now don't try this in the car please, you've got enough to pay attention to without adding everything else, but try this exercise, see how much you can remember and start to train yourself to think of every possible experience around you and in your own life as possible fodder for your novels.  Your worlds can become richer, your characters more unique if you have a greater vat of information to draw on.  Why wouldn't you want that?

Wednesday will be the final installment of the chapters.  Lesson 6:  Rhythm.