10 Tips for People Watching
I'm not trying to turn you into a creeper, but this is a very important skill for creative writers. In order for you to create dynamic characters or even accurately reflect the people in your real life, you have to be able to make the critical observations that matter. Here are 10 tips to becoming a better people watcher.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, especially in this time of social distancing, would be to find a public place, take a seat, and take notes.
10. Visual aids. begin with the setting. Why? Because if you are in a specific location and someone stands out, there is a reason for that. For example, maybe you are at a coffee shop on a Tuesday afternoon and it is filled with people in suits, work clothes, maybe some work-out attire. Then, here comes someone who stands out visually. Maybe it's the clothing, the hair, the way the person is carrying themselves. That is probably the person who would be the main character in this story if this scene were in a book. Or, it is the person the main character would notice for the same reason you did.
9. Dress to Impress? This brings us to attire. There is no limit to fashion and if you have anyone or anything putting on clothing or accessories, you need to consider that element of your writing. Look at a person and try to describe what they are wearing. Really consider it beyond grey slacks and a white button-down shirt.
8. Visual attitude. Now, take a look at the face, the body language. We have all seen people stuffed into an expensive gown or suit or outfit and one look at their face or the way they were standing told you...they hate this outfit. Something hurts. Something is not comfortable. This person does not want to be wearing this or does not want to be here. Then there are those who wear it like a second skin and look as natural in a ball gown as they do in a jumpsuit. Body language is a visual language and it speaks, so listen to it and get some of those details.
7. Talk to me! Speaking of language, time to tune in to conversations. Jot down unfamiliar terms or phrases. Is this person trying to draw attention to themselves or do they have a hearing problem and do not realize or care how loud they are. A little observation can often help you identify which scenario. What about the couples or groups? What are they talking about? How are they talking? Any accents or colloquialisms?
6. Talk to the barista! If you are in a place where customer service is part of the environment, consider not just how these people are interacting with each other, but how they are talking to the staff. It is amazing what you pick up and sometimes shocking.
5. Smell this. I'm sure the coffee shop is filled with plenty of drink and baked good smells, but people do like to dab on a bit of the scent attractant, so determine if you can smell anything. I'm not advocating you sniff people. I'm just saying if someone walks by and you inhale is the perfume to the level you can smell it? If the door swings, does the shampoo scent carry? Maybe the fabric softener or detergent? Maybe you don't have to smell them, but you can see the people in line can and those reactions are also awesome notes.
4. Taste that. Again, you can probably see what people order. The cups indicate different beverages. Is it hot or cold? Coffee, tea, something else entirely? Food? What kind? How much? Are they actually drinking and eating or just nursing it while they hang out and write about you...I mean...yeah, someone may also be observing you. It gets easier. Anyway, these details are important because your characters may or may not like the same things YOU like. If you don't expand your culinary knowledge, your readers will notice.
3. Taste this. What are the reactions, if any, of the other people regarding the orders? I know I have friends who want to insist I try something they have. How do the other people react if you catch this moment? Those observations lead you to more questions and answers that can lead to more complex character relationships.
2. Don't touch that! Consider this is being written in 2022. We are three years into a pandemic that has no end in sight. What is the touch situation in this location? Are you outside because indoor seating is closed or reduced? Are people using something to cover their fingers before opening a door? How much distance are they getting? How is that impacting other people?
Touch this! And if what people are not touching can give you pages of description, think about what they are touching. The brush of hair, the holding of hands, proximity, masked or not...I mean...in this day and age it speaks volumes. In addition to what it reveals today, you may need to consider the setting you propose for your characters. None of this protocol was in place prior to 2019, so if you are writing a story set before the pandemic, don't let pandemic rules guide you! If you are writing a story set after the pandemic or not even on this planet, you have to decide if you want to acknowledge this event in real history or ignore it like we tend to do with so much history that interferes with comfort levels.