I LOVE people watching. It helps if you are either naturally nosey or you were the odd kid at the back of the class, in school, who sat staring at all the popular kids.
Sometimes I don’t think we appreciate how cool it is to be a writer. With ‘must do activities’ such as spying on people life is NEVER dull for us writers! Choosing to lead a fun-filled creative life was one of the main reasons why I woke up one morning, a few years ago, with a big smile on my face and cried “I am going to become a writer!” This passion of mine means I get to write nonsense, undertake some interesting Google searches, laugh at my own jokes, talk to imaginary folk and do hours of curtain twitching.
I am sure you can all imagine my excitement when I decided to write a post about all my people watching hints and tips!
So, why does a writer need to people watch?
- People watching can add a rich flavour to characters. If a writer is struggling with making characters come to life, I guarantee a spot of people watching will improve things.
- People watching can get the creative juices flowing, especially if you are studying someone who is interesting or a bit strange.
- Writers should draw inspiration from real life.
- People watching can also include another of my favourite pastimes – ear wigging or listening into stranger’s conversations. If you can hold back from joining in with the conversation, this activity will do wonders for your dialogue. It is where you learn that we rarely speak in full sentences.
As I said above this people watching business is a must do activity for writers!
Here are my hints and tips:
- Go prepared for note taking. You need a pencil and at least a couple of empty pages free in your note-book.
- Pick a busy location where there are lots of different people to watch. I have found the best places are open plan cafes in shopping centres as you will have lots to view; fellow cafe customers and shoppers to study. Shoppers are really entertaining to watch!
- Sip a coffee or tea whilst you do some people watching. It can be thirsty work and being highly caffeinated means you will notice a heck of a lot more.
- Don’t make it obvious that you going to be spying on people. Take a book, large headphones and a bag of nuts. Occasionally look up. This will make it look like you are simply taking a quick break from reading whilst listening to some soothing music and nibbling on your nuts. So realistic! Sigh!
- Study hair colour, hair style, clothes and….shoes! You can tell so much about a person by their shoes. Clever writers always give you important shoe detail as they know so much stuff can be gleaned from style and condition of shoes.
- Study posture and body language. Are they looking defensive, anxious or are they relaxed? What body language signals are they giving you?
- Try to think about whether your person fits a stereotype and why?
- Here’s the magic bit – once you have jotted down some key thoughts on their appearance and posture. Then create a back story! Who are they? What do they do? Are they waiting for someone? Why are they clutching their handbag so tightly? Why do they have a strained look on their face?
- Once you have mastered individuals upgrade to watching a couple having a coffee. Study their body language. Observe whether they are leaning in towards each other. Ask yourself who holds the power in that relationship and how this is shown? This is so much fun! Again create back story about their relationship and the reason why they are having coffee. Is he telling her that it’s over or is she moaning at him for not picking up his dirty laundry?
- Finally finish off with listening to some conversations around you. Take note of how people speak to each other and the little silences present in a conversation. If you are like me it won’t take long for you to get completely carried away with listening into a number of different conversations. This can lead to a wonderful and mind-boggling sonder moment!
‘Sonder is the realisation that everyone random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness’ The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.
After all this, stagger home with a notebook full of character fodder, a headache from so much caffeine and a newfound hatred of nuts.
Have a great day spying!!