Characters abound in everyday reality outside of the realm of fiction. One just has to know how to find them. Human interaction floods everyday senses, and for most people, the experience passes without a thought. But not writers. Not writers. We feed off the essence of other humans, absorbing personalities, quirks, facial reactions, likes / dislikes, features, looks, clothing. Every day human beings taking shape and form in a writer’s mind to influence characters that reside in poems, stories, novels.
All authors should partake in the event of “people watching”. It’s a rather addicting sport once you start, and one that can be done at any time, anywhere in public.
There is very little equipment needed to partake in people watching. All one needs is their favorite writing tools: Pen & notebook, tablet, laptop, smart phone, blood on your t-shirt… well maybe not that last one. Best to remain inconspicuous whilst people watching. The goal is NOT to draw attention.
How to people watch:
Essentially you have to become a wee bit “stalker-ish”.
- Find a nice comfy place to sit,
- Arrange yourself with your favorite writing tool,
- Don’t draw attention to yourself,
- Hone in on a subject,
And then take it all in:
- Observe interactions with one another.
- How are two people communicating? Are they laughing, arguing, staring romantically into each other’s eyes?
- How does a large crowd of people act? Are they boisterous, jovial, fighting, or singing their hearts out?
- How does a person on their own act? Is she tucked away in the corner, is he confidently out in the open, is she reading a book, is he staring at his smartphone?
- Watch facial expressions.
- What kind of look is the subject making?
- What is causing them to react in such a way?
- Pay attention to little movements, like brushing hair behind an ear or fiddling with a ring.
- What is motivating those actions?
- What kind of emotion does the person emit when they make these motions?
- Listen to conversations.
- What kind of conversation is it? Friendly chatter, romantic sayings, heated arguments?
- How is each person handling their side?
- What kind of reactions or little movements are the subjects making during the conversation?
- Inhale and take in the scent of the atmosphere around you.
- Is the smell of the location influencing your subjects, like in a coffee shop or bakery?
- Feel the temperature of the location.
- Is it too hot because there are too many people around?
- Is it too cold because there are only a few?
What are the benefits?
There are too many benefits from people watching than I could possibly list, however, for the context of today, the main benefit is that people watching helps to develop characters and build scenes. It provides a catalyst of inspiration to those who may be struggling to get a character formed, or it provides enhancement for others who are trying to write a wider of characters. Scenery can also be fleshed out whilst observing people. Since an environment has an impact on how one is acting, pull some of that influence from the scene in reality to enhance a scene in your fiction, connecting that with how your character exists within that scene.
How often should this be done?
As often as need be. The thing is, once you become obsessed with the sport of people watching, you sometimes struggle to turn off the channel. You will soon catch yourself observing everything and anything around you. And it will all become embedded in your brain. Not only is people watching going to help you grow as an author, it is also going to help you grow as a person. You will learn to better analyze those around you.
So go forth and take in all that people watching has to offer.
Where are some of your favorite places to people watch? What are some of the most bizarre things that you have observed that influenced a character in your fiction?