Thursday, February 9, 2012

Writing Tip---Be An Observer

Yesterday, I was at the orthodontist office with my son. We followed the normal protocol when we came in by going to the desk, signing my son's name, then sitting down to wait our turn. I stuck my nose in my reading material (hello, I have a ton of Whitney reading to do!) but my attention quickly turned to a lady who was upset with the staff behind the desk.

You see, she had noticed that the boy who had come in after her had been taken back BEFORE her and she was upset about it. She felt like she had been there on time and the children should have been taken back in the order in which they arrived.

As I watched the exchange I noticed how the secretary behind the desk immediately squared her shoulders and pasted on a fake smile. I noticed that she put her hands in her lap as she waited for the upset lady to make her point. Then she patiently explained that some children are seen by the staff first, where others have to be seen by the orthodontist first and that is why there was a longer wait for her son, because he needed the orthodontist first. Her voice was calm the entire time, with almost a lilting quality to it that seemed to soothe the mother in front of her.

The mother was dressed in jeans and a button-up shirt and while she had been making her complaint, a flush of red had crept up her neck. But as she listened to the secretary you could almost see her release a deep breath and let her shoulders fall. She rolled her neck and ended up apologizing for her earlier words.

Yes, I had shamelessly watched the entire exchange and I know I can use some of my observations in a book. I love watching people, seeing their reactions, and looking at their body language. I think humans give off so much more communication through their body and demeanor than words could ever say and I love trying to incorporate that in my writing.

I find inspiration for characters in almost every place I go. The grocery store with the woman in six-inch heels and a floor-length fur coat cruising the dairy aisle, the hairdressers who always seems to have someone sharing their life story with everyone in the shop, and the mall with the hordes of teenagers trying to impress. As an observer, this is my chance to breathe realism into my characters by basing them off of people and things I've observed.

Be aware of the people around you. Watch them (not creepily and definitely don't stalk them) but casually observe and you may find that missing piece to your character that helps them relate to your reader. After all, as writers, aren't we making a small statement on the world around us with our stories? Why not be authentic in our efforts.

Do you people-watch?


Debra Erfert said...

Yes, I do people watch. But I know someone who does/did more than just watch. I worked at our local hospital back before my sons were born, and one man who volunteered there would scare people and tell horrific stories just to see their reactions. He was a retired psychology professor, and I'm not entirely sure he wasn't writing a book. I was so naive back then, and believed everything he said. Now I'm so skeptical in my semi-old age, I'd probably do a Google search to see if he was telling the truth or was a bold face story-teller.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Ew, Debra, that sounds creepy! I think I would definitely just stick to observing and no partipating. :)

Gina said...

I do! Hubby and I play a game where we try to "put the pieces together." You know: Why is she wearing six inch heels, a sequined top and too much makeup at Disneyland? How on earth did those two people get together?

He says I'm better at it than he is, my stories always make more sense *grin*

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Gina, that's funny! What a fun date night idea. :)

Melanie Goldmund said...

I don't usually observe people. In fact, while I was reading this blog post, my first reaction was "Other people -- those are those moving blobs that get in my way when I'm walking somewhere, right?" No, but really, I'm usually caught up in my own little world. Something tells me this is not good.

Anonymous said...

All of the time. I consider it a part of my job as a writer.

Sarah Pearson said...

I people watch all the time, and make up stories in my head as to who they are and why they are there.