Monday, March 29, 2010

People Watching

A few weeks ago, we took the whippersnapper to the zoo. It was a super busy day, which was great because it meant people watching, and not just any people watching, but family watching. Moms, dads, little kids, and all the ways in which they interact. The way they dress, what they said, their body language.

I tell you, it was great fodder for someone who writes, yes?

What I like best about people watching is that when you find someone who might match your idea of a character, you get to study them for later description. In line for the steam train ride, I saw a good looking dad who was very much how I pictured a male character in my current story. I took careful note of how the laugh lines appeared when he smiled (this required some obsessive staring, but it was discreet obsessive staring) and the way he held his daughter. My character doesn't have kids, but through Steam Train Guy, I could see how much my character would love his kids when he has them. Also, did I mention how incredibly attractive Steam Train Guy was? And that I didn't think his wife matched him in beauty, but that is entirely beside the point. (But it did cause a whole lot of wondering about them and how they met....and I was off on another story!)

I also wondered a lot of about people's desires, actions, and faults. The man with grey hair but youngish face, with young wife and four children all very close in age (!!!) at the baboon exhibit -- did he want to cheat on his wife? She had a fat diamond wedding ring set on, but the way he spoke to her was laced with impatience. Did she have to put up with that all time time? What dark side did this couple have? I had already decided that Steam Train Guy was very nice, but reserved and doesn't communicate all that he feels. Young Baboon Exhibit Wife obviously carried some despair inside: after a long day of chasing after four children all under the age of five, her well-paid husband comes home, but he didn't want to hear it.

You want to be careful that you don't assign cliches to people. There's always much more to people than what you see or expect. Maybe Young Baboon Exhibit Wife used to be a corporate lawyer who took crap from no one and now that she's got the four young kids, she takes crap from Gray Haired Husband. But not for long. The next time he comes home and snaps at her, she's going to let him have it. (Not sure yet how, but she's totally going to.) Maybe she actually runs him around. Maybe Hot Steam Train Guy is a total jerk and hates every minute of every day with his wife and child, but puts on an increasingly difficult act, just for the pictures.

So many possibilities. I've always been a dreamer this way, thinking up whole stories around people who catch my eye for one reason or another.



7 comments:

jdcoughlin said...

I love people watching. My dad was a big fan, too. When he used to take us, his four daughters shopping for school clothes, he sit at the mall all day and just people watch. And you are so right. It is much more fun, and much more interesting, to avoid cliches and look beyond. To dream beyond.

atsiko said...

I don't people watch as much as some writers seem to. Mainly because there's never yet been a person I've seen who quite matched a character of mine. I do it for the osmosis, to let all that behavior sink into my well of characterization, and then I draw up a cup or a bucket when needed.

Travener said...

I'm an inveterate people watcher.

Jenna Wallace said...

I did this as I was developing characters for my book. The nice thing is that it is sunny most of the time here in San Antonio, which means sunglasses. Definitely an advantage when avidly staring at strangers.

Alicia J. Frey said...

I love people watching. Got that from my mom. We used to sit in the food courts at malls and just watch the people go by. As I got older, I started making up stories of where they were going, what their drama was, and who they would meet. Now, I shop for characters. :=)

Sierra Godfrey said...

Love it guys, you all seem to people watch too (except atsiko!) and you make up stories about people too. That's what fascinates me most -- the possible stories. Thanks for the comments today (and welcome Jenna!).

atsiko said...

I do it a little, but not to use for specific characters.

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