I SPY

People do strange things every day. Have you ever just sat back and watched what people do when they think no one is looking? Sometimes I do. Maybe it is the writer in me, or maybe its just morbid curiosity.

I’ve seen all kinds of nose debacles, which are too gross to mention. Then there’s the parent meltdown moments where they hope no one saw what their child just picked up off the pavement and shoved in their mouth. Of course, the lovey dovey couples who are oblivious to the rest of us and we truly wish they weren’t. Not to mention, the arguments held in tight whispers as if we can’t see the way they are throwing their arms around like a bird ready to take flight.

Yes, people watching is a sordid hobby, but it can be very informative. And albeit wicked, fun.  If you are a writer, it’s a perfect opportunity to improve your craft. So, take out a notebook and find a park bench.

Here is what you might want to look for:

*Mannerisms. Write down the mannerisms you see people use to convey emotions, or their every day, I-don’t-even-know-I’m-doing-it mannerisms. It is so simple in our action beats of our manuscript to use the same physical actions. This is a great opportunity to build a log of things people do and pull from it in your writing.

*Dynamics. Write down the interplay between characters. How do they physically interact with one another? What amount of space and physical contact do they maintain during their conversations?

*Conversations: Write down some of the things that people say, if you can do it without being intrusive. What are they willing to talk about in public places? Do they talk to people they don’t know that are in the environment?

*Environment: Write down who you find in different settings and how they physically interact with their environment. That can give you great setting and story world components that make your scene in that kind of environment more real.

*Plot: Write down things that could cause conflict in the setting you’re in. Noise, a pick pocket, an old colleague. The possibilities are endless. Especially look for things that might come into that world from the edges and cause conflict. This will help you build twists into your novel.

*Fears: Look for things in this environment that a person might fear. Emotions can easily distract the hero/heroine from their accomplishing their goal. These can be used to create conflict in the scene or expected plot moments.

When you are people watching with your writer’s eye, what do you watch for?

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About Michelle Lim

Author Michelle Lim is the Brainstorming/Huddle Coach with My Book Therapy Press and the Midwest Zone Director for American Christian Fiction Writers. Michelle’s romantic suspense is represented by Karen Solem of Spencillhill Associates and has gained contest recognition in the Frasier, the Genesis, and the Phoenix Rattler, winning the Genesis in 2015 for her genre. Michelle writes devotionals for The Christian Pulse Online Magazine and Putting On The New. Since her nonfiction book release, Idea Sparking: How To Brainstorm Conflict In Your Novel, through public speaking and online chats Michelle helps writers discover the revolutionary power of brainstorming to bring new life to their stories.

10 thoughts on “I SPY

  1. Pete Denton says:

    Great post. I’m a people watcher. I tend to look for mannerisms as they are great to drop into your stories. Travelling by public transport is great for snippets of dialogue to inspire characters or entire stories. Use all your senses!

  2. Teresa says:

    I once heard a comedian speak of how much “material” he was able to get just watching people at Walmart. So often we have tunnel vision when shopping, but when we open our eyes it is amazing what we see. Sometimes it is overwhelming to just see the prayers needs that radiate off of people. People watching can show us the amazing array of non-verbal cues that convey the emotional state of a person.

  3. Once, sitting in an ICU waiting room overheard a man say, “That dude is crazy as a road lizard.” Now, you know that’s going to pop up somewhere. lol I like to watch couples when they’re eating out. It’s so much fun deciphering if they’re on a date, or married (around here you can always tell–not much conversation and no little touches)
    great post, Michelle.

  4. Michelle Lim says:

    So true! Our eyes are often focused inward. It is amazing what we can learn just by focusing on others. Great thought!

  5. Michelle Lim says:

    Pat, I absolutely LOVE that phrase! Isn’t it great the things that people say!

  6. bethkvogt says:

    Crazy as a toad lizard . . . oh. my. word.
    I like to watch interactions, snippets of conversation …
    but you’re right, I have to shake myself out of my tunnel-vision and make myself see what’s going on around me!

  7. Michelle Lim says:

    I loved that line too, BETH! Sometimes it is amazing what people say to each other without realizing that someone else is listening. My hubby is bilingual. Sometimes people speak Chinese and don’t realize he understands exactly what they are saying. It makes for great humor.

  8. Michelle Lim says:

    Thanks for the thought. I have an idea that just popped into my head.

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