Observing the World

Salman Rushdie

Lesson time 11:24 min

Salman shares practical tips for observing sights and soundscapes to gather material for rich descriptions.

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Topics include: Make the Familiar Unfamiliar · Go on a Walking Adventure · Explain Bread to a Martian · Listen to the Soundscape · Tune Your Ear to Speech


[MUSIC PLAYING] SALMAN RUSHDIE: I would say that every writer that is any good, is that they have sharp observational powers. And those can be developed. If you set yourself the task of noticing, it's amazing how much you will begin to notice. You should have a sharp eye. You should be able to look at the world. And you should be a good noticer. You know, you should try to notice things wherever you go. What is happening on this street, you know? It may mean looking away from the action. You know, look at the corners of the vision. What's happening in the corner of your eye, not straight ahead? When we normally just walk down the street, we can be lost in our thoughts. We can be on the phone to somebody. We can be distracted. But if you set yourself the task of noticing when you walk down the street, you'll actually be surprised by how much you do notice, that all this is going on. Oh, I never looked at that before. So that's one thing. One thing is to try and train your eye to look at the world and to notice it. The second thing is-- is to hear the world. You know, it's to develop your ear. And for example, how do people talk? That's going to be very useful to you when you're writing dialogue. If you actually-- and these days, actually, it's got easier. Because everybody's walking down the street talking to themselves, because they got a phone in their ear, you know. And they're talking to themselves as if nobody's listening. It's very good to try and sharpen your hearing in terms of listening to-- listening to the world. Listening to how people speak. Listening to the natural world. There's a wonderful passage in Calvino where one of his characters, Mr. Palomar, is just sitting in a chair in his garden listening to the birds. And he begins to hear rhythms in the way the birds are tweeting. And he starts trying to write down the rhythms of the birds, and-- just by listening. And it's a beautiful passage. So when you get good at this, or if you are naturally good at it, your ear will hear-- you'll start hearing things which are revealing about people, you know. And it's-- you know, if you have a notebook-- I mean, always have a notebook, you know. Always have something to write something. I mean, I've used my-- if I think of something, or I hear or see something, I just make a note in my phone, and I transfer it later. There are things which you hear which make you think things. And if you don't write them down at that moment, you will never remember them ever again. You know, so you have to form the habit of making a record of your observations. Everything you do every day can help you sharpen your eye, if you-- if you are conscious of the fact that you're trying to really look. You know, most of us don't really look. If we're in a place that's familiar to ourselves-- to us, like, the place where we live, we're not really looking at it, you know. We can reach for the doorknob, because we know where the doorknob is...

About the Instructor

To the delight of readers across the globe, Salman Rushdie’s genre-defying novels have brought surreal and magical realms to life for decades. Now the Booker Prize–winning author teaches you the art and craft of storytelling. Learn how to draw from your own experiences to build vivid worlds, authentic characters, and complex plots. There are extraordinary stories that only you can write—start sharing them.

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Salman Rushdie

Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie teaches you his techniques for crafting believable characters, vivid worlds, and spellbinding stories.

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