On Writing: Looking Up

When your characters look up, what do they see? Sunsets and sunrises are so prevalent in books as to be clichés, yet every day there is a sunrise and every day there is a sunset, even if it’s too cloudy for us to see either. I suppose mentioning the rising or setting sun makes more sense if there is a reason. For example, tonight there was a gorgeous sunset here because of the fires in California. The smoke drifts to Colorado and is trapped by the mountains.

I try to find different things for my characters to look at, because to a certain extent, a character is what he sees. If a character sees a flock of what looks like hawks, and he or she knows that they are vultures, it tells you a bit about the character. Vultures fly in packs, hawks fly alone. Or so I’ve been told. Both hawks and vultures are equally lovely as they coast on the updrafts, but somehow knowing that the regal bird is a vulture and not a hawk takes away some of the beauty of the scene. 

In A Spark of Heavenly Fire, the characters see helicopters patrolling the skies above quarantined Colorado. In Light Bringer, which will be published next year, the characters see unnatural lights in the sky, they see strange airplanes, and they see an impossibly brilliant rainbow. In my WIP, the characters see a light in the west on Easter morning, and for just a moment, they think it’s the rising sun.

So what do your characters see when they look up? Does the sight have a bearing on the story? Does it tell you a bit about the character?


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6 Responses to “On Writing: Looking Up”

  1. Marilyn Meredith Says:

    Gorgeous sunset.

    I suppose that describing a sunset or sunrise would work if there was a reason for doing so.

    You could say something like, Detective Anderson admired the purple and reds in the sunset, knowing all the while once he reached the murder scene what he would see wouldn’t be so pleasant.


  2. Iapetus999 Says:

    I got in the habit of looking up when I did hangglider training. You never knew when someone would get out of control or do something interesting. So my characters do look up a lot, especially at the night sky.

  3. Sheila Deeth Says:

    Quick look at work in progress. Yes, my characters do look up and around. But they seem to get depressed and worried and look down a lot too, at hands and veins and fingernails and the twisted threads in their clothes.

  4. knightofswords Says:

    Sometimes characters look up when they’re trying to think of the proper answer to questions like “We you sleeping with Bambi last night?” People seem to look up when they need to ponder. I often try to use a “signature image,” one that stays with the character throughout the book. In a work in progress, the character often sees a golden eagle because eagles and their symbolism are interwoven with the plot.

    The helicopters in “A Spark of Heavenly Fire” are part of the action of the moment; but they’re also indicative of the fact that times have changed and that it’s not safe to be outside–or anywhere, actually.

    Some characters never look up, and that’s a telling character attribute as well.


  5. joylene Says:

    Wow, just moments ago, my protagonist RCMP Corporal Danny Killian looked up and saw a sky with no end filled to the max with stars. His co-protagonist, widow Sally Warner looked up and saw the same cold night, but felt more alone than she could ever remember.

    I hope looking up never becomes a cliche. There’s too much power and mystic in the endless sky. Too much to know and too many questions to answer.

  6. JaxPop Says:

    My current WIP has a scene where a character looks up as a gull flies over. (Inspired by a childhood memory & chatted about with Joylene a few weeks back.) I won’t go into detail.

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