People watching is an essential part of being a writer and lesson in human nature. How this is done is by seeing people’s bad and good habits, distinctive temperaments, tastes, and appearances, and deepest longings and fears. It involves watching people to get an insight into the beauty and rhythm of the community around us.
The aim of people watching is to try to guess another person’s story just from mere observation, and embracing the fun of this social experiment. People watchers notice speech-in-action, relationship interactions, body language and activities. It’s also common to listen in to conversations to help with producing realistic dialogue. Identify emotions and pay attention to nuances of facial expression and body posture. Interpret people’s actions, watch for connections between people and search for tensions. Eavesdrop on arguments and watch the body language that accompanies these heated moments.
I love to people-watch. I find the way people walk, the clothing they wear and how they interact with each other intriguing. Because I don’t know them personally, I can imagine a whole life for them. My mind creates struggles and scenarios involving these strangers that pass through my life for an hour, a minute, or second.
Characters in fiction come from real-life people. Our mental camera brings to mind all sorts of characters with interesting habits and mannerisms. Real people make your characters more believable.
People watching can be done anywhere, so have a notebook to jot down your observations.
If you happened to be sitting in a Wi-Fi hotspot, it’s easy to just type your observations, and many phones have a note-taking application.
Jotting down your observations does two things:
• When your mind has lost its creative edge, you can read over your notes for story ideas.
• It gives you a storehouse of character components for possible fiction characters.
TIPS FOR PEOPLE WATCHING
• Ways to get an idea for a character is to watch people in motion. Find a place where there are many people moving about or interacting. The busier the place is helps with variety and development of new ideas, such as a bus going into town, a crowded food court or busy street cafe. These kinds of places attract interesting people and conversations. You may pick a few interesting individuals or look at what everyone is doing, watching everything around you.
• Absorb the people around you. Write down simple words or brief sentences that pop into your head. When you get home you can write out longer descriptions or short blurbs about the person.
• Create a profile for every person you watch. When people-watching, try going to a place that you do not normally go. This will heighten your awareness about the scene before you. Think about what work they’re involved in, how and where they live, and imagine what friends they hang out with.
• Take a small notebook and pen with you wherever you go. Write down names, places and anything else that makes you think for more than a second. You’ll end up with a reference book that is unique to you; something you can go back to and add to as you go along.
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Julie Guirgis is a freelance writer living in Sydney, Australia. Her writing has appeared in several publications including Creation Illustrated, Alive Now, Significant Living, Madonna, Insight, Vibrant Life, Signs of the Times, The Aquarian Online, Back Home, War Cry, Guide, Kaleidoscope, Transition, Now What? Adventist Review, Author’s Publish Magazine, Eureka St, Witty Bitches, Insights, The Edge, Writer’s Weekly and has upcoming work in Friend, Spotlight on Recovery, The Narcissist’s Playbook Anthology and Woman Alive.
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Great tips! I love to people watch and take notes. As an artist, I also do quick sketches to accompany my notes.