What Did You See?
By Cait Collins
Test your powers of observation.
You are standing in line at the bank. Every teller is busy. Each teller has five or six people in his line. It’s nearly 5:00 P.M on Friday. The lobby is warmer than usual. The teller for your line is moving slowly. You’re getting impatient. Just when you start complaining about the sloppy service, the patron at the counter leaves. The teller’s face is pale and her hands are shaking. You place your deposit on the counter and put your palms flat on the polished wood counter top. She hesitates, and says “Excuse me. I’ll be right back.” A few minutes pass and the bank manager comes to the window. “I apologize for the inconvenience, but I need you to move to the window on your right.” Not so fast, I’ve been waiting for half an hour.” “Please cooperate. The bank’s just been robbed.”
The police arrive and begin questioning the customers. Put yourself in the shoes of the witnesses. Answer the following questions from the point of view of the following patrons: yourself, a harried young mother with three small children, and the teller.
What did you see?
Was the person in front of you male or female?
Height, build, hair color?
What was the suspect wearing?
Did you notice any jewelry, glasses?
Did you touch anything at the counter?
This really happened. I was the person standing in line and getting impatient because I was running late for my shift at the Disney Store. Not only did I give a statement to the police, the FBI interviewed me. I could give them the gender, height, hair color, clothing, glasses, yes, I had touched the counter top. The FBI agent showed me a picture of the suspect leaving the building. My description was accurate. It’s been nearly 15 years and I still remember the look on the teller’s face and remember her apology for walking away from me when I came up to her window. I can describe the teller and the suspect. And I remember that “I don’t believe this is happening feeling.
Writers must be observant. We must look around and really see the scene. Do you go to the mall and watch the people? A couple of hours after leaving the mall could you describe at least one person? What did you smell? What did you hear? Observing not only the place but also the sounds, scents, colors, and people allows us to recreate a similar scene in our stories. Observation empowers our work. Test yourself next time you’re out and about. Look around. What do you see?