Thursday, October 7, 2010

People Watching

Coffee isn't a food group, I don't think, but it should be - along with nachos, really good wine, chocolate, and perfect peaches. If I were to create my own food pyramid, it would look wildly different from the USDA's recommended ingredients. But I digress. What I really want to talk about today is the fine art of people watching as a writer's tool.

If you've ever been stuck for the right bit of dialogue, needed a boost for a character who lacked interest, or were hunting for a viable subplot, people watching is the way to go to solve all of your dilemmas. All it takes is removing your seat from the seat of your computer chair and venturing outside to the grocery store, local coffee shop, hardware store, or any of the places people gather for whatever purpose.

 Coffee shops are great people watching places. You can sit with your computer on the table and sip your grande two pump skinny vanilla latte and munch your cranberry orange scone while your nimble fingers record all manner of personality quirks, tidbits of conversation, physical descriptions, and intriguing plot possibilities.

People in shopping mode are great assets for a writer. Sit down on one of those mall benches and watch the parade of humanity stroll by just for your viewing pleasure. Note the way people walk, carry their parcels, juggle packages and children, yammer away on their cell phones. It's Writers University 101 without any tuition fees.

And then there's the random stuff that springs out of the blue. For example: We had a wood stove installed in the house this week. That involved some masonry, drywall renovation, electrical work, and painting. The first thing the electrician did was pull a screwdriver out of his toolbox and straighten all the little screws in the faceplates so they were all lined up horizontally. An obsessive compulsive trait even Monk didn't think of. That got me thinking about murder, of course, and how a small clue like that could lead.......

Where are your favorite people watching sites?


  1. I realize this will come as a surprise to most people, but I do not drink coffee...never have. I'm energized enough without its addition to my system. SO, coffee houses are not my source for picking up useful pieces of dialogue for my novel in progress.

    BUT, I find my favorite place is at the huge Barnes & Noble bookstore. I was standing between two long rows of books and I heard someone on the next aisle over say, "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it -- and even then I questioned its reality." I'm very thankful for this "invisible" person and now this remark is the first line in my novel!

  2. Thanks for the great addition, Joyce! Bookstores provide privacy - or at least the illusion of privacy.

  3. I'm not a coffee drinker either, but I get lots of caffeine from Max, a Pepsi product, to which I am thoroughly addicted!

    Wish I had time to people watch. The ones I see each week are 250 little folks under four feet tall. I have a book written in which one of those small people is the star. Haven't started shopping it around yet.


  4. Minor league ball games! And church. Really!

  5. Monti, make notes wherever you can. You never know how it will turn out.

    L. Diane - Church - yes, for sure. Plus you have the added bonus of checking out the clothing.

  6. I enjoy social dancing to swing and blues music. When I'm out dancing, I interact with a lot of different people I normally might not talk to. I've also discovered a whole different mode of communication through physical movement. Dancing with multiple partners has given me some interesting clues into the way people's bodies connect to the world and the other people around them. In my writing, I think these observations prompt me to spend more time considering how my characters move through a space, and what clues their physical movements offer about their personalities.

  7. Hi Karen -- I'm fond of theme parks, zoos, and other tourist attractions. Those who are distracted tend not to notice those of us who watch. :)