Caroline Lord Fiction Writer

Pay Attention

Bridge in a field


Pay attention—two simple words essential to creative writing.

One definition of “pay” is to “give or bestow.”

The word “attention” derives from the Middle English word “attend” or to apply one’s mind—one’s energies to someone or something.

To me, paying attention means being present with a purpose. It’s active and focused. By paying attention, we engage our five senses and absorb our surroundings. We take from life to create fiction.

As you go through your day, zoom in on small details then write them down (as you in your own individual and unique way) see them.

Here’s a quick observation of a young woman in a coffeeshop…long wavy hair hanging over the back of the metal chair…color…mousy brown flecked with fine strands of iridescent blond…strong aquiline nose…to make a point she slaps the back of her hand into her palm…. She rubs the side of her pinkie finger across her nose. She holds her finger there, clenching her eyes tight. She pauses, as though in pain from concentrating. She opens her eyes and utters only, “Yeah.”

Pay attention to your dreams. You didn’t even have to work for those. They simply came to you for free in your sleep!

For instance, last night, I dreamed I was in a room where a man kneeled down next to a large square black rubber-like case. He got hold of the zipper on the side and pulled it around three sides. He flipped back the cover and a man in a scuba suit was lying on his back. It turned out he’d been packed in the case and flown in the cargo section of a plane. We weren’t sure if he was dead or alive. But he then spit out water.

A starting premise. Someone put a man wearing scuba suit in a large case then snuck him into the cargo section of a plane and flew him to another country. Why?

Here are a few other exercises to help crystallize small quotidian details.

Focus on the lines crisscrossing your palm. Observe a woman making an omelet or a man pulling on knee socks. Take note of the smell of gruyère cheese being melted for fondue. What does it feel like when a caterpillar moves across your arm?

By paying attention, our fiction can only improve, and the reader will thank us for it.