Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Favorite Hobby: People Watching

One of my favorite hobbies is people watching. Every single person has their quirks and this is what I'm looking for, as well as listening to vocabulary, slang and interesting physical traits.

Next time you stop at Starbucks to get a cup of coffee, do what I do. Before you open your laptop and start writing like mad, sip your hot java and watch for a bit. The characters in your current WIP may change before your eyes...literally! Watch the adorable elderly couple and imagine them forty years before. Notice how he still opens the door for her and helps her to her seat. Notice how there's not a hair out of place and her red lipstick is applied with perfection. Catch a whiff of his cologne and imagine them having a picnic in their youth. It's not hard.

Watch the mom toting three kids, her hair pulled back into a messy ponytail, juggling a baby on her hip, shushing a toddler and scolding a teen insisting on buying another CD. BTW, that mom is me. Watch as her husband takes the baby for her, kisses him on the cheek and buys a chocolate milk for the four year old. Notice how he pats his wife on the behind when he thinks no one is looking. A frazzled mom turns into a sexpot kitten and you can imagine what the two of them will do when the teen heads over to a friends house tonight and they put the little ones to bed.

Watch as she kisses his scruffy cheek and tells him to wait another day before shaving. "I was hoping to get some, tonight," He half whispers as he adds a ridiculous amount of sugar to his coffee. Remember, you're still sitting there pretending to work on your masterpiece when really you're recording all kinds of cool characteristics for your current hero and heroine and all secondary characters. Pay close attention. Notice how worn his hands are and the tan lines. He's a laborer. Watch him smile and see that crooked tooth that would have any dentist charging you half a week's paycheck to fix and realize that it makes him sexier. Hear the snort at the end of her laugh and write it down. It's cute. Goofy, but cute.

Watch the woman in her forties stroll through the door in workout clothes and no make-up. Write it down. Make-up would cover up this woman's true beauty. Notice the mole on her face and her sexy laugh lines. Her skin is as pale as milk but a tanning bed would conceal her glorious complexion. Notice how she sings to herself as she chooses a bag of coffee to purchase. And write down what kind she buys. She chooses a dark roasted full bodied bean. What does this mean? Plain Jane, workout queen picked the heartiest flavor of all. The bitter stuff that makes your toes curl. There's much more to her beneath the surface. You need to scratch at it and find it. Find it all. Uncover her layers and see what lies beneath.

This is what we must do with our characters and people watching is a terrific exercise when forming our characters. Remember little quirks that made you fall in love with your own lover. Write them down. Use them. There's no better way for a writer to honor another. And on the flip side of the coin, remember all the villians you've come across in life. You better believe that I have and I use their wicked traits in my books and it's oh so lovely to kill these people off. Yes, I might be a little nuts but I haven't met a writer who isn't..just a tad.

So, here's your assignment...go forth my wonderful readers and people watch to your heart's content! Do it at a restaurant, a coffee shop, a bar, the grocery store, the beach...ooooh, yes, the beach is a good place for my favorite hobby...especially on a warm summer day.

Spread Love,


Kelly Stone Gamble said...

I carry a notebook with me just to write character observations in. I watch how people walk, facial expressions, etc. Then I pick and choose mix them up and build a character. People watching is great.

Pete Grimm said...

Great post, Alisha. Authors must be good people watchers and obviously you are an observant and creative one.

Stacy Eaton said...

Alisha - great post!! You are very right! I love to watch people!! I do it in my job everyday - and since I became a writer - I pick up even more details!! Great post!

MJKane said...

People watching is something I need to do more of. I do, however, watch plenty of movies and study the way actors portray the characters they play. That's great research too. At least then I don't earn the evil eye for staring! LOL!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I must be the only writer who doesn't people-watch. Part of this is because I don't go anywhere. Sad, but true. Full-time working mother of a toddler. If I go out on weekends, it's usually just to visit family. I travel on the train, but not much to see there, plus I am busy writing.

I would like to people watch, if only to help with my writing. One day, maybe, I will find time...

Alisha said...

Thanks for eveyone's comments and observations. Finding our method is so much fun and telling! Tells a lot about our writing and ourselves. I agree, watching movies is another helpful tool in people watching and yes, you don't risk someone seeing you stare..lol! But sometimes, the real world is so much better. Sometimes movies are too dramatized and people wouldn't really act a certain way. Real live actions are often surprising, that's why I love to people watch.